Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons, however, may have no symptoms at all.
Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death.
The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into water or soil and can survive there for weeks to months. Many different kinds of wild and domestic animals carry the bacterium.
These can include, but are not limited to:
- Wild animals
When these animals are infected, they may have no symptoms of the disease.
Infected animals may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment continuously or every once in a while for a few months up to several years.
Humans can become infected through:
- Contact with urine (or other body fluids, except saliva) from infected animals.
- Contact with water, soil, or food contaminated with the urine of infected animals.
The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters. Person to person transmission is rare.