Queenslanders are being warned about a bacterial disease that’s currently on the rise in the sunshine state.
According to health authorities, cases of leptospirosis have spiked in the past 12 months, with numbers almost doubling in 2021 compared to this time last year.
Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira bacteria, which is found in urine from infected animals including rats, mice, cattle, pigs and dogs.
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Professor Keith McNeil from Queensland Health said symptoms of the disease include fever, severe headache, muscle aches, chills, vomiting, and red eyes, and usually develop after five to 14 days following infection.
“Leptospirosis is a notifiable condition that is most common in tropical and subtropical areas like northern Queensland and it can potentially cause serious illness,” Professor McNeil said.
“Cases tend to increase in the warmer months due to the corresponding wet season.
“The bacteria can enter the body through skin cuts or abrasions or through the lining of the mouth, nose, and eyes by exposure to water, soil or mud contaminated with the urine from infected animals.
Professor McNeil said agriculture workers are most at risk, such as those working with animals or cane or banana farm workers.
However, it can also be caused by drinking or swimming in creeks, rivers or lakes contaminated by the urine of infected animals.
“Water affected by heavy rain or flooding are especially risky,” he said.
“That means people who participate in camping, gardening, bushwalking and water sport pursuits can also be at risk of infection as they may have contact with contaminated water, soil or mud during these activities.”
To date this year, Queensland has recorded 78 cases of leptospirosis across the state compared to 41 cases at the same time last year.
Professor McNeil said the rise in cases has coincided with an increase in rodent activity and flooding events this year.
“As the wet season ends and we move into the cooler dry season, we would expect to see less cases of leptospirosis based on previous year trends,” he said.
While leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics, authorities say early diagnosis is still the key.
“Serious disease such as meningitis, kidney failure, bleeding and respiratory complications can develop from leptospirosis infection if it’s not treated promptly,” Professor McNeil said.
“So it’s important to see your doctor immediately if you suspect you have had exposure to contaminated water, soil or mud, and develop these symptoms within a week or two”.
He said there are several measures people can take to protect themselves from infection.
“If you work with animals, make sure you cover cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressing, wear protective clothing such as gloves and boots, shower after work, wash and dry hands frequently, and do not eat or smoke when handling animals”.