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.
Aquatic H&S Consultant