What is leptospirosis?

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Leptospirosis: Overview

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria. People usually get it by drinking or swimming or wading in fresh water that has the bacteria in it. The most common source of the bacteria is urine from infected animals. Leptospirosis can cause a high fever, a bad headache, a cough, chills, and muscle aches. You also may have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a rash. If not treated, you may develop other symptoms, such as skin bruises and eye problems.

Antibiotics can cure the infection. It is important to get treatment, because this disease can cause organ damage. With antibiotics and care at home, you should get better in a few days or weeks.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is usually spread through water, food, or soil contaminated by the urine of infected animals. Dogs and rats are the most common domestic animals that spread the infection to people.

Symptoms of leptospirosis, if they develop, often begin suddenly and may include severe headache, sensitivity to light, sweating, chills, muscle aches, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes, rash, and a high fever.

If the disease is not treated, recovery may take several months, and serious health problems may result, such as kidney damage or liver failure. In rare cases, death may occur.

Leptospirosis is diagnosed with laboratory tests of blood or urine samples and is treated with antibiotics.

How can you care for leptospirosis?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), to relieve fever and aches. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Get plenty of rest to help your body heal.
  • If you have a rash, try not to scratch it. Put cold, wet cloths on the rash to reduce itching.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make your symptoms worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Leptospirosis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have a new or worse headache or stiff neck.
  • You are short of breath.
  • You have new pain.
  • You are bleeding.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.