Although leptospirosis is rare in the UK, some simple steps can help reduce your chances of developing the condition.
Water sports in the UK
Rates of leptospirosis are very low in the UK, so there's no reason why you should not participate in freshwater activities such as swimming, sailing, water-skiing or windsurfing.
However, it is a sensible precaution to cover any cuts and grazes with a waterproof dressing and shower or bathe afterwards.
This will also help protect against other waterborne infections, such as hepatitis A or giardiasis.
You should wear adequate protective clothing if you have an occupation where you come into contact with animals (particularly rodents) or sources of contaminated water, such as farming or working with sewers or drains.
If you are travelling to parts of the world where leptospirosis is widespread, you may wish to limit your exposure to freshwater sources, such as rivers, ponds or lakes. If you are unable to avoid these, you should wear adequate protective clothing.
You should also only drink sealed bottled water or fresh water that has been boiled. Always cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof dressings and clean any wounds as soon as possible.
Avoid areas where animals may have urinated. If you suspect you have been exposed to animal urine, clean the affected area of skin as soon as possible. Never touch a dead animal with your bare hands.
Read about the causes of leptospirosis for information on areas of the world where leptospirosis is more common.
Antibiotics can sometimes be taken as a precaution against becoming infected. But there is limited evidence this works for leptospirosis, so the treatment is usually only used in exceptional circumstances:
- for emergency workers working in disaster zones where there is known to be an outbreak of leptospirosis cases
- for soldiers serving in areas where rates of leptospirosis are high
- for animal workers contaminated by an animal known to be a carrier of the leptospira bacteria
At the moment, there isn't a vaccine that protects humans from leptospirosis, but it is possible to vaccinate cattle, dogs and some other animals.
If you think you may be at risk of contracting leptospirosis from one of your animals, you may want to consider getting them vaccinated.