Leptospirosis: The 14 Most Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ Diaries (Part 21): Leptospirosis – The 14 Most Frequently Asked Questions

Contributed by: Rachana Arya



Leptospirosis (or common name ‘lepto’) is a zoonotic disease – which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. It is bacterial in origin and this bacterium resides in the urine of animals, especially rats and farm animals. It is linked to filthy environments and agricultural jobs that require contact with animals or water. It can infect humans as well and people at risk include those with close contact with animals. 

There’s not much awareness about leptospirosis in India and with much of the population in contact with animals, in one or the other, it’s the right time to address some of the most important questions around this illness. 


FAQ #1: What is Leptospirosis?

It is a bacterial disease that occurs worldwide, mainly in tropical and subtropical climates. It affects a multitude of mammals, ranging from rats to humans and is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira.


FAQ #2: Is leptospirosis a virus or bacteria?

Leptospirosis is a potentially fatal bacterial infection.


FAQ #3: Who is most at risk for leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with animals, such as farmers and mine workers. Farmers (especially sugar cane and banana farmers), fish workers, sewer workers, veterinarians are at the highest risk of contracting the disease.


FAQ #4: How does a person get leptospirosis?

Humans can become infected by exposure to contaminated sources, including:


    • Contact with the urine of an infected animal
    • Contact with soil, water or food contaminated with the urine of an infected animal
    • Work outdoors or with animals
    • Engage in recreational activities that involve exposure to potentially contaminated water or soil


FAQ #5: How contagious is leptospirosis to humans?

In general, leptospirosis is not spread from person to person and is primarily contracted through animal contact. 


FAQ #6: How does leptospirosis enter the body?

Leptospira bacteria usually enter the body through:


    • Skin cuts or abrasions
    • The lining of the eyes, mouth, and nose
    • Eating contaminated food that has been potentially urinated on by rodents
    • Drinking contaminated water from potentially contaminated water sources
    • Bathing in floodwater or contaminated freshwater


FAQ #7: What are the clinical signs of leptospirosis?

In humans, Leptospirosis can present as a viral-like illness usually marked by causing a wide range of symptoms, including:


    • High fever
    • Headache
    • Chills
    • Muscle aches
    • Vomiting
    • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
    • Red eyes
    • Abdominal pain
    • Diarrhoea
    • Rash


FAQ #8: What is the incubation period of leptospirosis?

The incubation period of leptospirosis is usually 2 to 20 days.


FAQ #9: How long do leptospirosis symptoms last?

Symptoms usually develop after 5 to 14 days following infection. It can last from a few days to 3 weeks or longer. Severe forms of the disease occur in a small percentage of cases, and rarely can be fatal.


FAQ #10: What can leptospirosis be confused with?

If you develop a mild case of leptospirosis, it may be difficult to diagnose the disease due to minimal clinical presentations. The symptoms tend to mimic many other conditions, such as the flu, dengue, malaria, hepatitis, or other bacterial or viral diseases. Many cases of leptospirosis are either asymptomatic or exhibit only mild signs.


FAQ #11: How does leptospirosis affect humans?

Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to:



FAQ #12: What is the best treatment for leptospirosis?

Antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin, are used to treat leptospirosis and should be given early in the disease’s development. For those with more severe symptoms, intravenous antibiotics may be prescribed.


FAQ #13: How can you prevent leptospirosis?

People who work with animals can take the following steps to protect themselves:


    • Avoiding touching soil that may be contaminated with animal urine
    • Avoiding touching objects that may be contaminated with animal urine
    • Covering cuts and abrasions 
    • Wearing protective clothing when working with animals that could be infected
    • Refraining from eating or smoking while handling animals that may be infected. 
    • Washing and drying hands before smoking and eating


Other people, including travellers or those engaged in recreational activities, can take the following steps to protect themselves:


    • Avoiding swimming or wading in the wateror swallowing floodwater or any freshwater source 
    • Covering cuts and abrasions 
    • Wearing protective footwear when walking outdoors, especially in mud or moist soil
    • Wearing gloves when gardening
    • Controlling rodents by cleaning up rubbish and removing food sources that are close to housing
    • Avoiding eating food that rodents may have had access to
    • Washing hands properly before eating food


FAQ #14: What is the test for leptospirosis?

The two most common ways to diagnose leptospirosis are the DNA-PCR test and the microscopic agglutination test (MAT).


Final thoughts

Given the fact that there is a human vaccine is available to protect against leptospirosis, it is important to consult a doctor on an immediate basis if you notice any manifestations of the disease or you have travelled in an endemic area. Keeping a check on your overall health with regular health screenings is a great way of getting a comprehensive insight into your well being and taking preventive measures if any issues might arise.


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