Leptospirosis (HSE INDG84L)


IND(G)84L June 1996

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What is leptospirosis?

Two types of leptospirosis infection can affect workers in the UK.

  • Weil's disease. This is a serious and sometimes fatal infection that is transmitted to humans by contact with urine from infected rats.
  • The Hardjo form of leptospirosis. This is transmitted from cattle to humans.

What are the symptoms?

Both diseases start with a flu-like illness with a persistent and severe headache.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who is exposed to rats, rat or cattle urine or to fetal fluids from cattle is at risk. Farmers are now the main group at risk for both Weil's disease and cattle leptospirosis: the cattle form is a special risk for dairy farmers. Other people who have contracted leptospirosis in recent years include:

  • Vets, meat inspectors, butchers, abattoir and sewer workers.
  • Workers in contact with canal and river water are also at risk.

How might I catch it?

The bacteria can get into your body through cuts and scratches and through the lining of the mouth, throat and eyes after contact with infected urine or contaminated water, such as in sewers, ditches, ponds and slow-flowing rivers. People working in dairy parlours are often in contact with cattle urine. Rat urine may also contaminate animal feed stuffs on farms.

How can I prevent it?

  • Get rid of rats. Don't touch them with unprotected hands.
  • Consult your vet about the cattle infection.
  • Cover all cuts and broken skin with waterproof plasters before and during work.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Wash your hands after handling any animal, or any contaminated clothing or other materials, and always before eating, drinking or smoking.

What else should I do?

Report any illness to your doctor. Tell the doctor about your work, show this card. Leptospirosis is much less severe if it is treated promptly. If your doctor decides you have leptospirosis tell your employer, who must then report it to the Health and Safety Executive. If you are self-employed you must report it yourself.

Note to the doctor:
The card holder's work may expose him/her to the danger of leptospirosis (either L. icterohaemorrhagiae or L. hardjo). Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in Weil's disease as jaundice is often absent in the early stages. The illness in L. hardjo may also be greatly shortened by appropriate antibiotic treatment. (Your local Public Health Laboratory Service or hospital consultant microbiologist should be able to offer advice and serological testing.)

You or your doctor can get further information from the Employment Medical Advisory Service at any office of the Health and Safety Executive.

This leaflet contains notes on good practice which are not compulsory but which you may find helpful in considering what you need to do.

Further Information

HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order from:
HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS
Tel: 01787 881165 Fax: 01787 313995

HSE priced publications are also available from good booksellers.

For other enquiries ring HSE's InfoLine
Tel: 08701 545500, or write to
HSE's Information Centre, Broad Lane,
Sheffield S3 7HQ

This publication may be freely reproduced, except for advertising, endorsement or commercial purposes. The information it contains is current at 4/94 Please acknowledge the source as HSE.
Printed and published by the Health and Safety Executive

IND(G)84L 6/96 C500

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