Weil's Disease: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment



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Weil's disease, the acute, severe form of leptospirosis, causes the infected individual to become jaundiced (skin and eyes become yellow), develop kidney failure, and bleed.[6] Bleeding from the lungs associated with leptospirosis is known as severe pulmonary haemorrhage syndrome.[5]

More than ten genetic types of Leptospira cause disease in humans.[12] Both wild and domestic animals can spread the disease, most commonly rodents.[8] The bacteria are spread to humans through animal urine, or water and soil contaminated with animal urine, coming into contact with the eyes, mouth, nose or breaks in the skin.[8] In developing countries, the disease occurs most commonly in farmers and low-income people who live in areas with poor sanitation.[5] In developed countries, it occurs during heavy downpours and is a risk to sewage workers[13] and those involved in outdoor activities in warm and wet areas.[5] Diagnosis is typically by testing for antibodies against the bacteria or finding bacterial DNA in the blood.[5]

Efforts to prevent the disease include protective equipment to block contact when working with potentially infected animals, washing after contact, and reducing rodents in areas where people live and work.[7] The antibiotic doxycycline is effective in preventing leptospirosis infection.[7] Human vaccines are of limited usefulness;[14] vaccines for other animals are more widely available.[15] Treatment when infected is with antibiotics such as doxycycline, penicillin, or ceftriaxone.[8] The overall risk of death is 5–10%.[10] However, when the lungs are involved, the risk of death increases to the range of 50–70%.[8]

It is estimated that one million severe cases of leptospirosis occur every year, causing about 58,900 deaths.[11] The disease is most common in tropical areas of the world but may occur anywhere.[7] Outbreaks may arise after heavy rainfall.[7] The disease was first described by physician Adolf Weil in 1886 in Germany.[16][17] Infected animals may have no, mild or severe symptoms.[18] These may vary by the type of animal.[15][18] In some animals Leptospira live in the reproductive tract, leading to transmission during mating.[15]
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