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Leptospirosis

Māuiuitanga huakita leptospira

farmer with border collie dogLeptospirosis is an infection caused by a bacteria (germ) called leptospira. People catch it from contact with the urine or tissue of an infected animal, or through water or soil contaminated with this urine. It often gets in through cuts in a person's skin.

The animals infected with leptospira may be wild (for example rats, mice, possums, and hedgehogs), farmed (for example cattle, pigs, and sheep) or even pet dogs.

Leptospirosis most often affects people who regularly work with animals, such as farm workers, meat handlers, and vets. Hunters, people who spend time in the wilderness, and people who do water sports can occasionally get it.

Symptoms of leptospirosis

Symptoms of leptospirosis are a lot like flu symptoms. They include a headache, fever, chills, and sore muscles. Occasionally it can cause a severe illness, with jaundice (yellowing of your skin and eyes) and liver and kidney failure.

Symptoms start between one and four weeks of getting infected. They can last for a few days or for three weeks or longer. Some people may take months to recover.

Diagnosing and treating leptospirosis

If you have symptoms and are at risk, see your GP. Blood tests can help confirm the diagnosis.

It's treated is with antibiotics, which clear most infections.

Preventing leptospirosis

You can protect yourself from leptospirosis by being careful in risky environments and not touching animal urine. Ways to take care include:

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.

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