What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a rare bacterial disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Humans contract leptospirosis by swallowing contaminated water or food, or through contact with contaminated soil, water or food. Water, soil and food can become contaminated by mixing with animal urine that contains Leptospira bacteria.

Animals that can be infected with Leptospira include domestic animals, such as cows, pigs, horses and dogs. Rodents and other wild animals can also be infected and contaminate bodies of fresh water. Humans who participate in recreational or occupational activities around infected animals are at risk of coming in contact with contaminated water, soil or food. Contaminated water is the most frequent cause of leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is known by many names including hemorrhagic jaundice, infectious jaundice, mud fever, and swamp fever. It is rare in most developed countries including the United States. However, infections have been reported in Hawaii. It is more likely to occur in warmer and tropical climates.

Symptoms of leptospirosis may begin two to 26 days (on average, 10 days) after exposure to a contaminated source. Early treatment of leptospirosis is usually successful and the outlook for recovery from mild cases is good.

In some cases, leptospirosis can progress to a serious or life-threatening situation, especially if treatment is not started early in the course of the disease. Complications include meningitis and Weil’s disease, which causes organ damage or failure. Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any symptoms suggesting leptospirosis after drinking untreated water, or have traveled to a developing country and have flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, cough, headache or fever.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as loss of consciousness, mental status changes, chest pain, rapid breathing, hallucinations, severe headache, or stiff neck.


What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

Symptoms of leptospirosis develop anywhere from two to 26 days following exposure to Leptospira bacteria. The average time it takes to develop symptoms is 10 days. In some cases, there may be no symptoms of infection. Symptoms can be moderate to serious and even life-threatening in some cases.

Typical symptoms include Read more about leptospirosissymptoms


What causes leptospirosis?

Leptospira bacteria cause leptospirosis. These bacteria are found in water, food or soil contaminated by infected animal urine, usually in warm and tropical climates. Animals that may be infected include cows, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and a variety of wild animals. Humans can become infected by drinking contaminated water and food, or when mucous membranes or broken skin come ... Read more about leptospirosiscauses


How is leptospirosistreated?

Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or by stopping them from reproducing and spreading. Different types of antibiotics are effective for treating specific types of bacteria. Antibiotics used to treat leptospirosis include:

  • Amoxicillin (Amoxil)
    Read more about leptospirosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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