Bacteria that cause leptospirosis can be present in the urine of animals such as rats. Generally, it is stagnant water, especially fresh water, that can be contaminated. What are the risks and how to protect yourself against them? We take stock.
- The urine of animals, mainly rats, can contain bacteria that cause leptospirosis.
- Care should be taken when swimming in stagnant freshwater.
- The disease is fatal in 5 to 20% of cases.
During the summer period, some take advantage of the sea to cool off, others bathe in fresh water. But you have to be careful because some water points can be contaminated by leptospirosis, a bacterial disease transmitted by rat urine.
Contamination mainly by rat urine
The bacterium Leptospira interrogans is found in fresh stagnant waters and muddy soils around the world. It is transmitted to humans through the urine of animals, mainly rats but also cattle, pigs or horses. Sometimes dogs can also transmit leptospirosis. Contamination occurs through the eyes, mucous membranes or small wounds.
The incubation period, i.e. the time before the appearance of the first symptoms, varies between 4 and 14 days. Generally, those affected have a flu-like state: fever, headache, muscle pain. In most cases, the disease is mild when treated early, but if symptoms persist, it can lead to kidney failure or even death in 5-20% of cases.
600 people infected in France each year
According to’Pastor Institute, there are one million cases of severe leptospirosis worldwide each year. In France, an estimated 600 people are infected each year, but its incidence is 50 to 100 times higher in overseas communities.
A vaccine is available in France, but reserved only for people most exposed to the disease, such as garbage collectors and sewer workers. If there is a risk of encountering the bacteria, you should wear gloves, goggles and boots. When swimming in fresh water, all cuts and scrapes should be disinfected and protected with waterproof dressings. Hand washing with potable water and soap is mandatory after navigation activities. During the three weeks following exposure, if flu-like symptoms develop, consult a doctor immediately.
We deplore several deaths from leptospirosis in recent years in France, including a triathlete who died in 2017 after bathing in fresh water.