What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a disease that is spread by animal urine. People get infected when they come in contact with body fluids of infected animals or with water, soil, or food contaminated with infected urine.

Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), red eyes, stomach pain, diarrhea, and rarely, a rash. However, some people do not have symptoms. This disease can be deadly and in the more severe cases can cause kidney or liver failure, meningitis (swelling of the tissue covering the brain), or bleeding in the lungs. Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, which are most effective when given early during illness.

Who is at risk?

Leptospirosis occurs throughout the world, but is most common in tropical areas. Travelers at highest risk are those going to areas with flooding, or who will be swimming, wading, kayaking, or rafting in contaminated fresh water like lakes and rivers. Leptospirosis is also a potential hazard for travelers who spend time around animals, such as humanitarian aid workers, adventure travelers, veterinarians, and animal caretakers. People traveling to urban areas in developing countries with poor sanitation may also have a higher risk of leptospirosis.

What can travelers do to prevent leptospirosis?

man walking bike through floodwaters

Travelers to areas with risk of leptospirosis can take the following steps to prevent the disease:

  • Avoid contact with water or soil that may be contaminated with animal urine.
    • Don't wade, swim in, or swallow floodwaters or water from lakes, rivers, or swamps.
    • Treat water to make it safe to drink by boiling or using an appropriate chemical treatment, especially if it has been collected from a source that could be exposed to urine from animals or contaiminated by floodwater runoff.
  • Cover any cuts or abrasions and wear protective clothing, especially footwear, if you must wade in floodwaters or other water that might be contaminated.
  • Talk to your health care provider about taking medicine to help prevent leptospirosis. Be sure to tell your health care provider about all your planned activities.

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

If you feel sick and think you may have leptospirosis:

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