Leptospirosis OutBreak in Sri Lanka?


In a recent news story The Sunday Times reported that there have been more than 600 reported cases of Leptospirosis recently in Sri Lanka. Being a country with agriculture based life style there’s a very high possibility of this disease spreading further within the country.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease which is commonly known as Rat Fever or “Mee Una” in Sinhalese, affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons, however, may have no symptoms at all.

How Do People Get Rat Fever/Leptospirosis?

The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into water or soil and can survive there for weeks to months. Many different kinds of wild and domestic animals carry the bacterium.These can include, but are not limited to:

    • Cattle
    • Pigs
    • Horses
    • Dogs
    • Rodents
    • Wild animals

When these animals are infected, they may have no symptoms of the disease.

Illustration by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal
Illustration by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal

Infected animals may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment continuously or every once in a while for a few months up to several years.

Humans can become infected through:

  • contact with urine (or other body fluids, except saliva) from infected animals
  • contact with water, soil, or food contaminated with the urine of infected animals.

The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters. Person to person transmission is rare.

What are the main Symptoms of this disease?

In humans, Leptospirosis can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

    • High fever
    • Headache
    • Chills
    • Muscle aches
    • Vomiting
    • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
    • Red eyes
    • Abdominal Pain
    • Diarrhea
    • Rash

Many of these symptoms can be mistaken for other diseases. In addition, some infected persons may have no symptoms at all.

Treatments Available?

Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin, which should be given early in the course of the disease.

If the symptoms are sever Intravenous antibiotics may be required.

Photomicrograph of kidney tissue, using a silver staining technique, revealing the presence of Leptospira bacteria.
Photomicrograph of kidney tissue, using a silver staining technique, revealing the presence of Leptospira bacteria.  Photo Credit – CDC/Dr. Martin Hiklin


Preventive measures!

The risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by staying away from the water that might be contaminated with animal urine, or from contact with potentially infected animals.

Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated water or soil because of their job or recreational activities.

Specially people should avoid contaminated water if they have open wounds. Wearing protective Gloves and Boots is a good option to keep away from this disease.

Who is at Risk?

Since this disease spreads through contaminated water and soil, farmers are at very high risk from getting this disease and apart from them many others too can be considered as at high risk,
Examples are –

  • Miners
  • veterinarians and animal caretakers
  • fish workers


The Health Ministry is formulating preventive measures as well as awareness programmes to be conducted in high-risk areas.