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Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) Reported in NYC | JP McHale
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Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) Reported in NYC

What is Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease)?

​If you live in New York City, you’ve no doubt heard or read about a cluster of people in a one-block section of the city’s Bronx borough being diagnosed with a rare disease called leptospirosis. All three of those infected were hospitalized with kidney and liver failure and only two of the patients survived the ordeal. The fact that three people in one area were diagnosed with the disease is a cause for certain concerns.

Here, we aim to give you a better understanding of this potentially deadly disease and what you need to do to reduce your risks of exposure.

Leptospirosis, or Weil’s Disease, is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria that normally thrives in warm and moist environments. It is most commonly transmitted through contact with the urine of rats, mice, and other rodents. The bacteria usually enters the body through a break in the skin on a foot or by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the bacteria, but it can also enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth if you inadvertently touch an object that has been subjected to infected rat urine and you touch your face afterward. The disease is not known to be transmittable from person to person, but it can be transmitted to or from a dog or other household pets.

Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis produces very little, if any, symptoms in the first phase of the disease. But, if a patient does experience symptoms, they usually present themselves similar to those of the flu, including fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. These symptoms usually begin 7 to 10 days after exposure and they can become quite severe as the disease progresses. Other early-onset symptoms can include red eyes, a skin rash, and low back pain.

Although the majority of those affected are able to see their condition improve after seven days, in rare cases, the disease progresses to its more serious second phase. This is when treatment is critical because meningitis, encephalitis, or the syndrome known as Weil’s disease, which includes kidney and liver failure and pulmonary hemorrhage can develop.

As stated earlier, a household pet can become infected and the disease can be easily transferred to a child or adult in the same home. So, it is important to pay attention to your pet if you think he or she may be ill. The most common signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include:

Signs of Leptospirosis

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Stiff gait
  • ​Shivering
  • Weakness
  • ​Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea, possibly with blood
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Yellowish skin or whites of eyes
  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Swollen mucous membranes
  • Dark red specks on the gums

How to Reduce Your Risk of Exposure:

The most effective way to reduce your risk of exposure to the leptospirosis bacteria is to wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after coming into contact with equipment or trash cans where garbage is stored. Make it a habit to wear rubber gloves whenever handling trash. You should also avoid walking barefoot when entering a basement, trash room, or incinerator, or anywhere else where it might be possible for rats or mice to be lurking.

If you find rat or mice droppings, the area should be cleaned with bleach and you should contact a professional pest extermination company.

You should also avoid swimming in freshwater lakes due to the risk of ingesting contaminated water. Even if you don’t swallow the water you can still be at risk because the bacteria can easily enter your bloodstream if you have open cuts or skin ulcers.

How is Leptospirosis Treated?

Luckily, leptospirosis is treatable with the right antibiotics. Penicillin and doxycycline are among the most common treatment options used.