Leptospirosis is a rare and contagious bacterial infection that can very serious. The infection is caused by the bacterium called Leptospira . Leptospirosis is most common in warm, tropical conditions and can affect any part of the body. With prompt and proper treatment, prognosis is usually good. If untreated, complications may develop that can potentially be fatal.


Leptospirosis is caused by contact with fresh water, wet or dampened soil, or vegetation that has been soiled by urine from an infected animal.

When contact is made with the contaminated material, the bacteria enter the body through open sores or wounds in the skin, or through mucous membranes. People can also contract leptospirosis by drinking water that has been contaminated by the urine of an infected animal.

Once the bacterium has entered the body, it flows into the bloodstream and throughout the body, causing infection.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Anyone can contract leptospirosis, but the following people are at an increased risk of developing leptospirosis:

  • Canoeists
  • Rafters
  • Swimmers (in lakes, rivers, and streams)
  • Workers in flood plains
  • Workers in wet agricultural settings
  • People who have pets, particularly dogs or livestock
  • People who work with the land, including farmers, ranchers, loggers, and rice-field workers
  • People who work with animals, including veterinarians


Symptoms typically appear about 10 days after infection and may include one or more of the following:

  • Sudden fever, rigors, pain, and headache
  • Dry cough
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Aching joints
  • Sore throat
  • Painful bones
  • Abdominal pain
  • Enlarged spleen, liver, or lymph glands
  • Rigid muscles
  • Rash on the skin


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood test to determine the presence of antibodies to the Leptospira bacterium
  • Cultures or other laboratory tests


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics, including:
    • Penicillin
    • Tetracycline
    • Chloramphenicol
    • Erythromycin


To help reduce your chances of getting leptospirosis, take the following steps:

  • Reduce contact with soil, vegetation, and water that could possibly be contaminated with infected animal urine, including urine from rodents.
  • If working with materials that could potentially be contaminated, wear protective clothing that covers the skin, including waterproof boots or waders.
  • If working in an especially high-risk area, talk to your doctor about beginning antibiotic treatment before potential exposure.