When It Is Raining Diseases

Leptospirosis

Tired of the scorching sun and the rising mercury levels, people start craving for monsoons and the sweet smell of petrichor. And finally, monsoon hits the coastlines and gradually travels inwards, sweeping the country with the relief of rainfall; the much-needed respite from the burning summer heat. While rainfall does bring down temperatures, it is also a fact that along with it comes a barrage of ailments. Leptospirosis, is one such disease that sees a high incidence especially during the monsoon and its symptoms, which are similar to many of the other monsoon-related ailments, makes it difficult to diagnose.

Though it has always been affecting people especially in flood-hit areas, this disease was especially in focus after the notorious Mumbai floods which paralyzed the city killing many Mumbaikars. After that severe flooding of the city, there was an outbreak of Leptospirosis. Many were reporting to various hospitals in the city with symptoms like fever with chills, headache, abdominal pain and in some cases skin rashes. Initially, the symptoms looked similar to viral fever, chikungunya, dengue and the like, but after detailed investigations, it was revealed that these were cases of Leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. There are up to 13 different genetic types of Leptospira that may cause the disease Leptospirosis in humans. It is transmitted by both wild and domestic animals, however, the most common animals that spread the disease are rodents.

The disease is transmitted by the urine of an infected animal, usually rodents, and is contagious as long as the urine is still moist. Flood affected areas and heavy rainfall provide the ideal hotbed for the transmission of this disease. When the urine of the infected rodent gets mixed with water in the water logged areas, then that leads to contamination and exposure of the eyes, nose, and open wounds in skin or swallowing this water accidentally leads to the contaminated water entering the human body. This results in the transmission of the disease, explaining the cause of high incidence of Leptospirosis especially during monsoons. People can also get affected through contact with food, water or soil that contains urine from the infected animals, especially rodents.

When a person is infected with Leptospirosis, the microorganism can be found in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid for the first seven to 10 days and then it moves to the kidneys. So kidney function tests, as well as blood tests, are performed to confirm the diagnosis. The most common tests used for confirming Leptospirosis is known as the ELISA (Enzyme- linked immunosorbent assay) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

It is important to diagnose the disease at the earliest so that medication can be started in the early stage itself. But its similarity with other monsoon-related ailments often makes it difficult to diagnose. So doctors reiterate on the need to hear the medical history of the patient in details so that they can identify the chances of exposure to the bacteria.

Usually, treatment with antibiotics is effective in treating Leptospirosis, but in some cases, if it’s a virulent strain of the bacteria and there is a delay in diagnosis then there are chances of Leptospirosis progressing to Weil’s disease, which is characterized by liver damage and kidney failure. In such circumstances, the heart and brain can also get affected with the risk of meningitis of the outer layer of the brain and encephalitis of the brain tissue. That is when Leptospirosis can lead to life-threatening situations. But in a majority of the cases, it is usually a mild form of Leptospirosis, in which the symptoms subside after treatment with antibiotics.

The symptoms of Leptospirosis usually manifest after an incubation period of seven to 12 days. So when visiting a doctor, it is essential to trace back medical history to at least a fortnight and check whether there has been exposure to contaminated water, food or soil.
Usually, farmers, water-sports enthusiasts, veterinarians, sailors and those in flood-hit areas are said to be at a higher risk of contracting this disease. Their chances of exposure to contaminated water are high and this makes them vulnerable to Leptospirosis.

As part of preventive measures, one can use protective equipment while dealing with potentially infected animals. And on a larger more generalized scale, keeping one’s surroundings clean and rodent free could be a primary step to ensure prevention.

So this monsoon, keeping clean, maintaining hygiene and avoiding rodents should be the keyword if one has to steer clear off Leptospirosis. These steps can ensure that one enjoys the beauty of the monsoons, feels the pitter patter of the rain and drenches oneself in the myriad rainbow hues that paint the sky after the rains while keeping Leptospirosis at bay.

Facts and figures about Leptospirosis:

• Estimated seven to 10 million people are infected by Leptospirosis in a year
• The number of deaths due to Leptospirosis is unclear though
• The disease is most common in tropical parts of the world but may occur anywhere
• This disease was first described by physician Adolf Weil in Germany in the year 1886
• Animals which are infected may have no symptoms, mild symptoms or severe symptoms
• In some animals Leptospira lives in the reproductive tract, leading to transmission during mating
• This disease is not known to spread among humans, meaning from human to human, and bacterial dissemination in convalescence is extremely rare in humans

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