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What is Weil's Disease?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Weil's disease is an infection that humans can catch from animals, including domestic animals like dogs. Perhaps most commonly however, the disease is spread by rats. Rats carry and excrete an organism called Leptospira ictero-haemorrhagiae in their urine. Between 50 and 60% of all rats carry this organism. If humans are infected with this organism, it can make them very ill and even result in death. As many as 10% of all cases of human infection have resulted in death.

Previously, Weil's disease only infected people such as sewage or abattoir workers, although there have also been incidents of farm workers and miners contracting the disease. New research shows that people who perform water activities, such as cavers and potholers, are also at risk. Rats commonly live near water and other areas where they can find food, such as farms, stables and riverbanks. The organism that causes the disease in humans cannot live for very long in dry conditions, but it can survive for some length in wet or damp areas. Salt water will kill off the organism.

The organism that causes Weil's disease enters the body through cuts, blisters or abrasions in the skin. It can also enter via the lining of the nose or through the throat or alimentary tract. The disease begins with a fever, followed by muscular aches and pains. Loss of appetite and vomiting follow. The incubation period is 7 to 13 days.

The sufferer may experience bruising of the skin, nose bleeds, sore eyes and jaundice. The fever lasts about a week and is usually followed by significant deterioration. The symptoms of Weil's disease can easily be mistaken for flu. If the sufferer has a clean occupation, the possibility of the condition may be overlooked in the early stages, but a blood test will confirm the diagnosis of Weil’s disease. Treatment is usually a penicillin antibiotic.

Weil's disease is curable if detected in time. Many doctors in urban areas may not be familiar with the disease. If you have any reason to suspect that you have been infected, you should alert your doctor as soon as possible.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1001183 — On Mar 21, 2019

I have had strange pain that moves. My son too, but out of six occupants, five have had unusual blood test results. In the neighborhood we have hundreds of field rats. And now we were just told my husband (who has been healthy ) is very eerily sick. He has suddenly developed kidney failure and heart failure. With in three months. Two people have died so what do we do?

By anon277789 — On Jul 02, 2012

About four weeks ago our dog jumped on my leg and caused a black lump, but he never drew blood. But since then, I've had flu like symptoms and bruising for no reason. I've also had stinging eyes. Does this sound like Weil's Disease? I've been to the doctor and they said I couldn't have it. They took blood for my cholesterol testing but they couldn't tell if I had Weil's from this, could they?

By anon242207 — On Jan 22, 2012

Well this is a load of scaremongering - people have to be careful and hygienic and many people are not. Washing hands is so important but how many people do not after going to the toilet.

Hating rats isn't the answer either: fact is humans spread more disease on this planet than any other creature so should I say, "God, I hate humans and their unhygienic lives." Quite frankly, yes I should!

By anon193078 — On Jul 03, 2011

I'm an electrical contractor and over the past week I've been working in a home that is very old and dilapidated in a hilly area, and I've had a lot of exposure to the roof space. I've got very violent flu like symtpoms and I'm having diarrhea and vomiting episodes very frequently. Chances of Weils disease here?

By anon120711 — On Oct 21, 2010

I had this and was misdiagnosed twice. I felt like i was dying. My head felt like it was going to explode then it was as though i went into toxic shock. I was treated by taking penicillin for 45 days, and it cleared up, but i feel i was lucky.

By anon115434 — On Oct 02, 2010

I think my brother has just died from this - the signs and symptoms are what he had. I am so angry that the hospital has treated him for muscular pains. I want him back.

By anon110142 — On Sep 10, 2010

yesterday i went for a bike ride and after a while i received the call of nature.

i had a scratch on my anus and i used a leaf that was near the ground to wipe my anus.

could i have contracted Weil's Disease?

By anon76782 — On Apr 12, 2010

my father has just been diagnosed because he is cleaning up his old shed (full of rat excrement) to move to a new house - he is seriously ill.

By anon70335 — On Mar 13, 2010

Which is why making your dog live outside is not a bad idea. Dirty animals.

By anon32717 — On May 26, 2009

i recently went swimming in the river twice with my friends. i'm worried that i may have caught weil's disease. the only sign i've had is the back of my arms hurt a tad. i just want to be certain i don't have it. shall i consult my doctor and what are the chances of me actually having the disease?

-paige

By anon24905 — On Jan 20, 2009

I am really worried about my daughter in law. she recently lived in a farmhouse infested with really large rats. She has been poorly ever since. She is vomiting a lot and keeps getting unexplained bruises on her. She has dropped from a size 14 to a size 8 in the last 8 months she feels down and although has now moved out is still having the symptoms. She hasn't been to the doctors as yet, and i don't think she realizes how serious this could be.

By anon24021 — On Jan 06, 2009

My brother-in-law just died yesterday from this disease. It really is a sad and terrible situation.

By anon20023 — On Oct 23, 2008

You can catch this disease from dog and cat urine. My 18 y.o. daughter just got home from the hospital today.

By anon4372 — On Oct 15, 2007

OMG! i got this and i am so ill. i hate rats and their urine.

By anon448 — On Apr 25, 2007

If contracted is Weils disease contagious?

By anon372 — On Apr 23, 2007

weils disease, is it true cows can carry weils disease ?

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