Leptospirosis is an an umbrella term for a variety of flu-like infectious diseases produced by numerous antigenically distinct and morphologically identical bacteria called leptospires. They infect humans and animals through contaminated water, food, or contact with a carrier with opened skin or the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. In its most serious form, Weil's disease, the disease can lead to life-threatening conditions such as meningitis, jaundice, and kidney failure; in its milder form it causes an unpleasant fever, severe headache, blurred vision and shaking. It can be easily treated with antibiotics.
A moist, warm environment, combined with alkaline to neutral pH of soil and water, favour the growth and maintenance of leptospires outside the animal host. Those working in such conditions are at risk.
Leptospirosis occurs worldwide and is an occupational disease for those who handle animals, who are in contact with water or soil contaminated with animal urine. or work in waste water management. Weil's disease used to be a disease caught by farm workers and sewer men, but there has been a gradual increase among recreational water-users, particularly fishermen and canoeists. Sex differences are not apparent where equal risk is present. However, men are more frequently affected than women because their occupations may bring them more often into contact with infected animals and a contaminated environment. The age group most commonly affected is that between 20 and 30 years. Individuals and young children may be affected if they swim or play in contaminated ponds or streams.
In 1997 in the UK, there were 39 reported cases of Weil's disease; in 1992 there were 28 cases (resulting in seven deaths), an increase of 10 on the previous year.