Canoeist Pathogenic Illness Guide
Leptospirosis is an animal infection. After recovery the animal excretes the organisms in the urine. The bacteria survive for days or even weeks in moist conditions, but only for a few hours in salt water. The infection is caught by direct contact with the urine or polluted environment. Bacteria enter through skin abrasions or via eyes, nose or mouth.
The usual incubation is 2 to 12 days. Usually a flu' like illness occurs which resolves in 2-3 weeks. There may be fever, severe headache, pains in the back and calf and prostration. A few cases develop jaundice, when the condition is known as Weil's disease.
Although death may occur in about 15% of the jaundiced patients, death without jaundice is virtually unknown. Antibiotics during the first few days help in limiting infection. Many cases recover without specific treatment.
If you think you may have the infection, go to your doctor and tell him/her that there may be a risk of leptospirosis. The diagnosis is by clinical suspicion. Blood tests can rarely confirm the illness in time to affect treatment. They may subsequently confirm it.
The microbiologist at the local hospital is the best source of advice.
Each year, an average, 9 water sports people contract Leptospirosis, among which 3 on average, are canoeists.
Leptospirosis is very rare, and its deterioration into Weil's Disease even more rare. Weil's Disease is however a very serious illness, and must be swiftly diagnosed and treated.