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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Leptospirosis

Weil disease; Icterohemorrhagic fever; Swineherd's disease; Rice-field fever; Cane-cutter fever; Swamp fever; Mud fever; Hemorrhagic jaundice; Stuttgart disease; Canicola fever

Last reviewed: September 3, 2012.

Leptospirosis is a rare and severe infection that occurs when you come in contact with Leptospira bacteria.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The Leptospira bacteria can be found in fresh water that has been contaminated by animal urine. The infection occurs in warmer climates.

It is not spread from person to person, except in vary rare cases when it is spread through breast milk or from a mother to her unborn child.

Risk factors include:

  • Occupational exposure -- farmers, ranchers, slaughterhouse workers, trappers, veterinarians, loggers, sewer workers, rice field workers, and military personnel
  • Recreational activities -- fresh water swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and trail biking in warm areas
  • Household exposure -- pet dogs, domesticated livestock, rainwater catchment systems, and infected rodents

Leptospirosis is rare in the continental United States. Hawaii has the highest number of cases in the United States.

Symptoms

Symptoms can take 2 - 26 days (average 10 days) to develop, and may include:

  • Dry cough
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Shaking chills

Less common symptoms include:

Signs and tests

The blood is tested for antibodies to the bacteria.

Other tests that may be done:

Treatment

Medications to treat leptospirosis include:

Complicated or serious cases may need supportive care or treatment in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU).

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook is generally good. However, a complicated case can be life-threatening if it is not treated promptly.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if you have any symptoms of, or risk factors for, leptospirosis.

Prevention

Avoid areas of stagnant water, especially in tropical climates. If you are exposed to a high risk area, taking doxycycline or amoxicillin may decrease your risk of developing this disease.

References

  1. Ko AI. Leptospirosis. In Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 331.
  2. Levett PN, Haake DA. Leptospira species (leptospirosis). In:Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 240.

Review Date: 9/3/2012.

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Use of antibiotics may or may not prevent leptospirosisUse of antibiotics may or may not prevent leptospirosis
    This is a systematic review of clinical research testing whether taking the antibiotic can prevent infection from a water‐borne bacteria called Leptospira. Data from different trials had conflicting results, and these trials targeted different kinds of people ‐ travellers and people who live in at risk areas, encompassing soldiers, farmers, and students. Taken together, the data does not support the practice in all cases, though short term travellers with a potential for high risk exposure may be helped. People who took doxycycline were more likely to have stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting but the medication had to be stopped in only a few participants.
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Figures

  • Antibodies.

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