Weil’s Disease – should you be worried?

1 Aug

We are really excited this week to introduce our first guest blogger – welcome Jez from Adventure Safety Training.  He is talking about Leptospirosis or Weil’s disease which is it’s more common name.

Jez has worked for over 10 years in outdoor activities.  He is a keen kayaker and canoeist (which puts him in the higher risk of infection from Leptospirosis category).

More recently Jez started to teach First Aid and offers a wide range of first aid courses including HSE first aid at work courses and for those working in the outdoor environment.

Leptospirosis also goes by several other names including Weil’s disease. It is a bacterial infection that can infect people. It comes from animals usually rats and cattle, but not exclusively.

Leptospirosis is most common in tropical areas of the world. It is in the UK but much more rare. It tends to affect those that work in certain environments.  They tend to be farmers, sewage workers, abattoir workers and those in contact with fresh water a lot of the time (sailors or canoeists, particularly those with stagnant water).

The bacteria can get into your body through cuts scratches and exposed soft tissue (i.e. lining of mouth and eyes). It is easy to reduce the risk of infection, use protective clothing/gloves in suspected areas or when handling high risk carriers (i.e. rats). Wash cuts and grazes immediately and then cover with waterproof plasters. Always wash your hands before eating if you have been in a high risk area.

Globally, it is estimated that 10 million people will get leptospirosis every year. Rarely, leptospirosis occurs in temperate climates, such as the UK.  In 2009, there were 33 reported cases of leptospirosis in England and Wales, 14 of which were acquired abroad. Most cases either involved people who regularly worked with animals and/or water, such as farmers and sewer workers or people who took part in water-based activities, such as canoeing or sailing. It is very rare for someone from the UK die from it as most of the cases are of the mild form and caught early enough.  However, Andrew Jeremy (“Andy”) Holmes MBE was a British rower on 24th October 2010 he died from contracting the rare water-borne disease.

The symptoms usually occur from 3 days after infection up to 30 days. These do vary but include flu like symptoms, diarrhoea, cough, sore throat, muscle pain or conjunctivitis. If these symptoms are left to continue it is possible to move towards more serious Leptospirosis these symptoms vary depending upon which organs are being affected. It could move to the liver, kidneys and heart, the brain or the lungs.

If you do work in areas that could be affected (see list above) do tell you GP ASAP. The earlier it’s suspected the better the rate of recovery. It can only be diagnosed with blood and urine tests. By the time these are done it could have got more serious, so a GP may well start antibiotics early if you work in suspicious areas.

Prevention is better than cure!

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