This guest post is by Burt C and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
Leptospirosis is a disease present in fresh water around the globe. It is endemic in tropical and sub-tropical areas, but not purely due to the climate there. These developing areas of the world, tend to have less treated water, less decent sanitation, less rubbish collection and less pest control systems than the developed world and all these play a part in the spread of leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis is also known as Weils disease. It is a zoonosis, a disease that can be transmitted from animal to human. It is spread via infected urine, and less commonly other body fluids. Three things can kill it, boiling, chlorine and antibiotics. Rodents are considered the usual vector though any animal, including domestic pets and livestock can carry it. The animals are asymptomatic, they show no sign of disease and suffer no ill effects from it.
Any activity or event that brings untreated fresh water into contact with humans increases the risk of infection. The leptospires,the spiral shaped bacteria are safe when dry and therefore any wet or damp conditions heightens risk. A return to damp conditions can on occasions re-activate the bacteria.
Prime sites for infection are river and stream banks, wells, soil under vegetation, mud, puddles, the body of water itself and gardens where infected animals may have passed or infected water has been used for irrigation. It should be remembered that rodents are incontinent and will leave a trail of urine wherever they go, sometimes it is difficult to spot this indoors. If you see a rodent, you have urine…end of.
The disease gets into the body via mucosal tissue, such as the eyes or the mouth, through cuts and abrasions, or it is ingested. It is not airborne and cannot enter the body under normal circumstances, via respiration. Andy Holmes, the olympic rower died of leptospirosis in October 2010, he is thought to have contacted it whilst practicing on the river.
The World Health Organisation monitors leptospirosis as it is a notifiable disease, most countries participate in this system. The United States does not. It removed leptospirosis from its list of notifiable diseases in late 1995 after being criticized during investigations as to why a country the size of the United States had an impossibly low number of cases reported each year.
The investigation concluded that the reporting system within the Continental United states was flawed, and that doctors were under-diagnosing the disease. Based on the land mass and volume of fresh water within the United States, and comparing that to other countries, it was estimated that there were over 10,000 cases per year of this disease within the United States. This was at a time when they were reporting yearly figures of between 58 and 70 cases a year. Not reporting it is nowhere near as important as not diagnosing it and the report concluded that such massive under-diagnosis could have major health implications for the population of the country.
As mentioned, leptospirosis is far more wide-spread in areas that are considered less developed than our own. Areas that have a lack of the amenities that we enjoy. These amenities will no longer exist after a major natural or man-made event. Water treatment will break down, rubbish collections will stop, pest control programmes will cease to exist, all at a time when large numbers of people will make the move to their retreat, their bug out location, in areas that will expose them to fresh untreated water that often carries within it this disease.
Those in cities will fare no better, initially, after any major event, the animals move to safer spaces where there is plenty of food. This is their survival instinct. Sadly there will be many animal and human corpses as well as an abundance of uncollected rubbish for them to feed on. The animals, particularly the rodents will prosper, and increase enormously in number. More animals mean more disease and this will fan out, eventually affecting all areas. It is estimated that currently 20% of all fresh water in the developed world has this disease within it or alongside it. There is no doubt that this will increase in a societal breakdown scenario.
The answer then is to avoid it…but sadly that is impossible. The treatment is antibiotics, the cyclines in particular. Unfortunately these are unsuitable for storage as they become steadily more toxic the further past their best by date that they are. Penicillin was used in the past, and with good effect and this should be stored in copious amounts.
Many things increase the chances of contracting leptospirosis. Anything that puts you in a situation where you may be in contact with animal fluids, doing things that may cause skin abrasions makes you a more likely host. Fishing, chopping wood, gardening,foraging, collecting water, butchering an animal domestic or wild,or even washing clothes in a stream.
The Hardjo form of the disease appears only in livestock, it is fatal to humans. It is currently rare due to competent monitoring and husbandry. Cattle found to be carrying this are destroyed to avoid the potential of Hardjo entering the food chain.
There are some common sense measures you can take to cut your risk.
- Stout walking boots, sturdy gloves and long sleeves should be worn in any wooded environment where you may get scratched.
- Waterproof, thick gloves should be worn when drawing water, be it from a well, stream or river to minimise the risk of skin damage
- Eye and mouth protection as well as waterproof gloves should be worn when handling wild animals, removing them from traps, skinning or butchering them. The same clothing should be worn for removing human and animal waste and household rubbish, all of which should be burned or deposited as far away from humans as is possible.
- Thick plastic bags should be worn over boots when in areas contaminated by livestock waste. Bags should be removed before entering the house.
- Areas children play in should have a bucket of chlorinated water thrown down before the play there.
- Water destined for ANY human activity should be chlorinated.
- Domestic pets must not be allowed in food preparation areas
- Food prep areas should be wiped with a choline impregnated cloth before food is put on it.
- Hands should be washed in chlorinated water before entering the house
- Get in the habit of not touching your eyes and your mouth with your naked fingers unless you know for sure they are uncontaminated.
The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis are varied and many. Most people, around 60-65% will have, flu-like illness for a week accompanied by severe headaches and possibly minor nose bleeds. 25-30% will have a severe flu-like illness with incapacitating headaches for two or three weeks. They may suffer convulsions during this time and show unexplained bruising, they may have nose bleeds for no apparent reason. Some in this group will appear to make a full recovery but will go on to suffer kidney and liver function problems at a later date. 2-5% will die, having gone into liver or kidney failure. The headaches will not subside.They will have profuse and unexplained bruising, and severe nose bleeds due to clotting issues in the time before death.
The only way to know for definite if you have leptospirosis is by serology testing. Doctors often diagnose using differential techniques based on occupation, location and recreation of the patient, and follow those who fit the criteria with serology work ups.
It is hoped that this will post will provide people with enough information to be able to better protect themselves and their families, pre, during or post shtf.