What is Weil’s Disease and what happens if I get it?
What is Weil’s Disease?
Weil’s Disease, more formally known as Leptospirosis, is a potentially fatal waterborne disease. It is caused by harmful bacteria found in the urine of rodents, cattle, and pigs. This bacteria is often found in ponds, rivers, puddles, sewers, agricultural fields, and moist soil. The risk of Weil’s Disease is heightened after flooding due to the increased volume of stagnant water which can accommodate the harmful bacteria.
How Do We Get Weil’s Disease?
Weil’s Disease is transmitted from animals to humans. Humans become infected through contact with the bacteria. Household rodent infestations, such as mice or rats, can contaminate surfaces and food with the disease. However, exposure to water that contains urine from infected animals is one of the most common ways of contracting Weil’s Disease.
The harmful bacteria can enter the body through cuts or scrapes, or via the nose, mouth or eyes. Very few people exposed to contaminated water will go on to develop Weil’s Disease. Despite this, when the disease does infect a person, it can be fatal. It is thought to kill two or three people every year in the UK. Although it can often be successfully treated with antibiotics, it is difficult to diagnose.
The initial symptoms of Weil’s Disease are often mistaken for flu. They take from 3 days to 3 weeks to develop and can include:
- Severe headaches
- Red eyes
- Muscle pain
- Raised temperature
- Skin rash
More severely, Weil’s Disease can develop quickly to liver and kidney failure, which can lead to jaundice. Treatment by antibiotics is effective, but it can take months to fully recover. A diagnosis can only be made by a blood test, but because the symptoms are so typical of a number of other illnesses, it is often misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late.
- Avoid walking through floodwaters where possible;
- Prevent children from playing in stagnant puddles and pools;
- Wear wellies and other protective gear if exposed to potentially contaminated water;
- Keep cuts and scratches covered with waterproof plasters wherever possible;
- Wash as soon as possible if exposed to floodwater;
- Do not swallow contaminated water;
- Seek pest control treatment as soon as you notice a rodent infestation occurring;
- Disinfect any surfaces and areas, and throw away any food that has been subject to a rodent infestation.
What should I do if I think I may have Weil’s Disease?
The risk of contracting Weil’s Disease is minimal, and our advice is to be cautious but don’t panic. If you experience flu-like symptoms after exposure to floodwaters or a rodent infestation it is a good idea to see your GP as a precaution.
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