Although more commonly found in tropical areas, the
dangers of contracting Weit's disease in Europe are small but real
and Leaders and parents should be fully aware of the issues
surrounding the disease. There have been no recent reports
concerning Bristol Harbour.
What is Weil's disease?
Weil's disease is caused by bacteria which
infect a variety of wild and domestic animals and carry the
bacteria in their kidneys. The animals can excrete the bacteria in
their urine for some time and put any other animal or human which
comes into contact with their urine at risk.
How do humans become infected?
Humans are at risk of infection as the bacteria
enter the body through cut or damaged skin. Bacteria can also pass
across damaged or intact mucous membranes and the eyes. Humans can
pass it on to other humans, but this is very rare.
Human infection occurs through exposure to water
or an environment contaminated with infected urine. Anyone taking
part in any water-based recreational pursuits such as rowing,
canoeing, swimming, windsurfing and boating is at risk to
What are the symptoms of Weil's
In humans, Weil's disease causes a wide range of
symptoms although some infected people will show no signs. The
disease can cause an abrupt onset of a flu-like illness, with
severe headaches, chills, muscle aches and vomiting. In some cases
the disease can go into a second phase with the onset of a fever,
jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and a rash. In some
severe cases, organ failure or meningitis may occur.
When do symptoms start to occur?
Typically symptoms develop 7 to 14 days after
infection, although in some instances it can be as short as two to
three days or as long as 30 days.
How is Weil's disease treated?
Weil's disease is treated with antibiotics which
should be administered early in the course of the disease. For
people with more severe symptoms, intravenous antibiotics may be
Can Weil's disease be prevented?
There is no human vaccine available in the UK to
prevent Weil's disease although taking the necessary precautions
will dramatically reduce the risk of infection. Cuts or
abrasions should be covered with waterproof dressings before
possible exposure and cuts or abrasions sustained during activities
should be thoroughly cleaned. Showering promptly after
immersion in surface waters is also recommended.