Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria spread through the urine of infected animals. It can infect humans and animals when they have contact with urine, or with water, soil or food that has been in contact with urine. Leptospirosis can enter the body through skin that has been broken or through the eyes, nose or mouth. Leptospirosis is not usually spread person to person.

Leptospirosis is not common in NYC. There is an average of three reported human cases in NYC each year. Rats are the most common source of leptospirosis.

Symptoms

You can become sick between two days and four weeks after exposure. Some infected people may have no symptoms. Others may have a mild illness with:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Red eyes
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)

On rare occasions, severe illness can develop. This may cause kidney failure, liver failure or meningitis.

Prevention

Rats are the most common source of leptospirosis. The best way to prevent leptospirosis is to avoid contact with rats. You can prevent leptospirosis by also following these tips:

  • Avoid places where rats may have urinated.
  • If you cannot avoid areas where there are rats, or if you are cleaning areas where rats have been, use a solution of one part bleach and ten parts water.
  • Protect yourself from contact with rat urine by wearing rubber gloves, especially if you have cuts or sores on your hands or arms.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water after any contact with areas where rats may live.
  • Always wear shoes whenever taking trash out.
  • When traveling to tropical regions, do not swim or wade in water that might contain animal urine.

Treatment

See a health care provider if you think you have leptospirosis. You may need to take blood tests or start antibiotics.

Dogs

Leptospirosis has been reported in dogs throughout the city. Ask your veterinarian if your dog should get vaccinated.

Symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe weakness and depression
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle pain
  • Increased thirst and urination

If you think your pet may have leptospirosis, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Additional Resources

More Information