Leptospirosis

What is leptospirosis?

rain boots in water

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria. Infected animals spread the bacteria through their urine (pee). When infected animals pee, the bacteria get into the water or soil and can live there for weeks to months.

You can be infected if you touch fresh water, soil, or other objects contaminated with infected animal urine. The most common way you can get infected is urine or contaminated water getting in your eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin (such as a cut or scratch). You can also get infected by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.

Some people with leptospirosis will not have any symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), red eyes, stomach pain, diarrhea, and sometimes a rash. Without proper treatment with antibiotics, people with leptospirosis may develop serious problems with their kidneys, liver, or lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). In some cases, leptospirosis can cause death.

Who is at risk?

Leptospirosis is found in countries around the world. It is most common in temperate or tropical climate regions that include South and Southeast Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean, parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Latin America.

Travelers are more likely to get leptospirosis if they

  • Visit flooded or recently flooded areas
  • Swim, wade, kayak, or raft in potentially contaminated fresh water like lakes and rivers
  • Visit urban areas with poor sanitation
  • Touch animals or their body fluids. Animals that can be infected are mammals, including rodents, cows, sheep/goats, pigs, horses, dogs, and wildlife.

What can travelers do to prevent leptospirosis?

There is no vaccine approved for use in the United States to prevent leptospirosis in people.

Travelers can take the following steps to protect themselves:

  • Avoid touching fresh water or soil that may be contaminated with animal urine
  • Avoid touching objects that may be contaminated with animal urine, such as animal bedding
  • Don't wade, swim, or put your head in floodwaters or water from lakes, rivers, or swamps. Especially avoid freshwater contact after flooding or heavy rain.
  • If it is not possible to avoid wading in floodwaters or other fresh water, wear protective clothing like footwear and cover cuts and wounds with waterproof bandages or dressing.
  • Make water safe to drink by boiling or using an appropriate chemical treatment

For some travelers, taking medicine before you travel to prevent leptospirosis might be an option. Talk to your health care provider before you travel and tell them about all your planned activities.

There is no vaccine approved in the United States to prevent leptospirosis.

stethoscope

If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.

If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.

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