The Newlife Cleaning Systems Cleaning Blog
The unexpected death of Andy Holmes the double Olympic gold medallist from Weil’s at the early age of 51 brings this age old disease under the spot light.
Here in Northern Europe we tend not to worry about it thinking of it as a ‘rat-catchers’ disease or something that only happens in Third World countries. But as a bacterial infection it can affect anyone of any age who comes into contact with urine or other bodily fluids from an infected animal.
While rare, the ease of contact through broken skin, the eyes or mucous membranes means that leptospirosis can be easily caught at home, work or play.
The bacteria must physically enter the bloodstream to cause infection but in the cleaning industry the use of pressure washing equipment increases the risk of bacteria inhalation via water atomisation.
This risk must be fully addressed in the job specific risk assessments you prepare for your work crews. N.B. infection is only caused by the transfer of bacteria directly from water absorbing it via cuts or via food. It is NOT airborne and cannot be passed by normal human contact.
The most important factor in saving lives is to recognise the risks. Accordingly if you suspect you or your staff have been exposed to contamination, seek help immediately. The incubation period is at least three days so now is not the time to put sniffles and aches down to ‘fighting off a cold’ or ‘Man-Flu’
Symptoms to watch out for include severe headaches, redness in the eyes, muscle pains, fatigue and sometimes, similar to meningitis there is a red, non-blanching, pin-prick rash.
Antibiotics are very effective if given early in the infection but time is of the essence. To ensure your doctor, who may not have much experience in identifying the infection, treats you seriously and ensures you receive the appropriate blood tests make sure you tell him exactly what your fears are, why and all the circumstances.
Finally to put a hoary chestnut to bed: Do not believe or open spam mail with headlines such as “ Disease Caught From Coke Can” The basic gist of the e-mail is about some unknown person who is supposed to have caught leptospirosis by drinking from a soft drink can that rats had urinated on. This is a total fallacy as the bacteria cannot survive without the medium of the wet urine. As the official www.leptospirosis.org website plainly states ‘ you are more at risk of being hit by lightening while riding a camel than contracting Weil’s disease from a commercial drinks container’
Additional information for the professional practitioner is available from www.leptospirosis.org
Columbus Dixon October 2010