The danger of Weils disease in flooded areas

Weils disease is among the world’s most common diseases that are able to  leap species from animals to human

This  infection emanates from a bacterium called Leptospira and is commonly transmitted to humans by allowing water that has been contaminated by some animal’s urine e.g. rats or cattle, (sadly rats are unaffected by it)  to  come in contact with cuts and grazes  in the skin. Other avenues of infection is via the eyes or by inhalation.

These bacteria  can be  found in fresh water, damp soil, vegetation, and mud. Flooding may spread the organism because, as water saturates the soil, leptospires pass directly into surface waters. The bacteria is unable to survive in salt water. Rat bites will not transmit this disease.

At risk groups include sewage workers, travellers farmers, veterinarians, abattoir workers, rodent control workers, and other occupations with animals and those in flooded areas

The disease was first identified  by Adolf Weil in 1886 who himself died in 1916 from what many believe was the disease named after him.

Analysis of water samples can take up to 60 days and recently a microbiologist stated, ‘it will kill you before you know what killed you!’.

It is believed that Andy Holmes, who won two Olympic rowing gold medals with Steve Redgrave at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the Seoul Olympics  in 1988 , contracted Weil’s disease from infected  river water and died in 2010

Symptoms are initially similar to influenza, including fever,  headache, muscle pains chills and even vomiting. It also sometimes may cause a rash. Further   symptoms can be similar to those of meningitis and in severe cases can cause the kidney or liver failure leading to death from  heart, organ or respiratory failure.

  • What can we do?
  • Ideally stay out of flood water
  • If not avoid getting wet
  • Wear waterproof clothing, wellington, waders, etc
  • Cover all breaks in skin, cuts, grazes with waterproof dressings
  • Avoid inhaling, aspiring water
  • Keep away from eyes; tear ducts.
  • Always shower thoroughly after flood contamination
  • Always wash hands following contact

Anyone surviving Weils disease are likely to be immune from further similar infections for approximately 10 years.

Allen J Wilson
Aquatic H&S Consultant


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