Rat Borne Disease: Leptospirosis

August 22, 2019

One of the reasons why people dread the presence of rats is because they can spread pest-borne diseases; among these is leptospirosis, an infectious disease that can infect both humans and animals.  This disease is not confined to just one place or country. It can infect anyone all throughout the world. This is caused by Leptospira Interrogansa spiral-shaped bacterium.

Leptospirosis presents a wide variety of symptoms which are sometimes mistaken for other illnesses, while for some there may even be no symptoms at all. If not treated, this disease may lead to kidney failure, liver failure, respiratory distress, meningitis, and even death. Those who are at high risk for this disease are people who are in close association with animals and the soil and water they are in contact with. People who wade through floodwaters without wearing any boots on and with an open wound at the legs or feet are also at risk. 


Leptospirosis is transmitted via the urine of infected animals. Aside from rats, many other different animals carry the bacteria Leptospira Interrogans like cattle, dogs, horses, pigs, wild animals, and other rodents. These animals, even when infected, may not show symptoms of leptospirosis, but they may continue to excrete the bacteria in the environment for months and even years.

When we get in contact with an infected rat’s urine, or when we get in contact with water, food, or soil that is contaminated with the urine of an infected rat or other animals, we become infected. Leptospira interrogans bacteria can enter our bodies through the skin and mucous membranes, especially if there is an open wound. The bacteria then multiply when it reaches the liver, kidneys, and the central nervous system. It is rare to have a person to person transmission. 

Person To Person Transmission Is Rare, But Still Possible

Leptospirosis in humans is still possible but is considered weakly contagious. The reason for this is that humans, like rats, can expel the bacteria through urine during and after the illness. A person can then get infected when they get in contact with the urine of the infected human. One way this could happen is from a pregnant mother infecting her fetus. Another way is when an individual handles wet bedding from an infected person, and they happen to have an open wound. The transmission than would be possible.

According to experts, the contagious period for leptospirosis can last for as long as 12 months after getting the initial infection. 

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Leptospirosis?

The signs and symptoms for this disease are various, and may even be similar to other diseases. Dengue fever, hantavirus, and malaria all have similar symptoms with leptospirosis. Symptoms may appear after 2 days up to 4 weeks. Symptoms may include high fever, chills, headaches, abdominal pains, sore throat, fatigue, pain in the joints, pain in the muscles, reddish eyes, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, and rash. These signs usually happen in the first phase of the infection and may happen abruptly. Sometimes, these symptoms resolve on their own and require no further treatment. However, other patients progress to the second phase. Symptoms of the second phase include renal failure, jaundice, cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary hemorrhage, septic shock, and pneumonitis. The second phase symptoms may overlap with the first phase symptoms.

If not treated, the second phase may not resolve for several months. Some patients may even develop long-term complications. The second stage is also known as Well’s disease. The rate of death is about 1 percent to 5 percent. 

Hurricanes and Floods

Cases of leptospirosis are also observed to increase after a hurricane or floods when people would have to wade through floodwaters that could become contaminated by rats’ or other animals’ urine. After heavy rains and floods, anyone who has been in contact with contaminated floodwaters, contaminated freshwater, and streams, or soil may become at risk for infection. But the people who are at the most risk for this disease the whole year round are people who work close to animals or those who work outdoors. Those who participate in recreational activities outdoors like swimming or gardening are also at risk. Some activities that increase your risk of getting the disease include:

  • Swimming or bathing in floodwaters or fresh waters that are contaminated, especially when putting your head underwater.
  • Wading through floodwaters, especially when you have open wounds.  
  • Drinking, whether accidentally or intentionally, contaminated water from floods, rivers, or streams. 
  • Eating food that has been washed with water contaminated by an infected rat’s urine  

Diagnosis of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is diagnosed by physicians based on the patient’s personal history as well as a physical exam. Health care professionals may perform lab tests by isolating the bacteria from the patient or by a positive microscopic agglutination test.  


Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, erythromycin or penicillin. Clinic doctors and primary care doctors are the ones who treat leptospirosis while it is still in its first phase. Specialists who are consulted for treatment of the second phase of the disease include critical care, internists, infectious disease, hospitalists, kidney experts, and cardiologists.  

Avoiding Leptospirosis  

Here are some steps for you to be able to elude leptospirosis:

1) After a hurricane, treat water to make it safe to drink. Make sure to boil water or use a chemical treatment, especially if you suspect that the source has been exposed to rat’s urine.

2) Avoid swimming, wading through, or drinking floodwater. Especially so if you have an open wound. 

3) Cover wounds or cuts with waterproof protection that can seal out any water. 

4) Wear waterproof clothing and boots for protection if you have to brave the floodwaters for some reason.

5) Prevent rodent infestation. Do not eat foods that have been touched or have been approached by rats. 

Rats cause damage to property. They can be such a nuisance. They have this pesky ability to chew through plastic, wood, and cardboard. Because of this behavior, it enables them to do so much damage inside our homes. Aside from being nuisance pests, they are also disease carriers and can transmit them to humans. They not only transmit leptospirosis, but they also transmit other diseases as well, such as Hantavirus, rat-bite fever, and the plague. Getting rid of them, therefore, is of utmost importance.

Rats are known to swim up in sewer pipes and into toilets. Rats are very difficult to trap because they become wary of unfamiliar objects that are set in their paths. There are ways to prevent them from invading our homes, however. 

Control The Rat Population

Here are some tips that can be helpful for you so you can get rid of rats:

1) Maintain cleanliness. Rats thrive on garbage. They forage for food in our trash. Dispose of your garbage regularly. This cuts off one of their food sources. Place a cover on your trash bins. 

2) Store your food in sealed containers. Keep your food out of their reach by putting them in containers that are sealed. The less food source, the less reason for them to stay.

3) Seal holes and cracks in your home. Rats can sneak into small holes. These holes are possible entry points for these rats. 

4) Rats like to breed in areas with high moisture. Eliminate moisture in your home. Fix leaking pipes, faucets, and tubes. Use traps and baits. 

5) Snap traps are still the most effective traps against rats. Use peanut butter the size of a pea as bait. Place snap traps beside walls because rats crawl near walls. They are very uncomfortable crawling out in the open. 

Remove clutter around the house. Old papers, boxes, and cardboards are favorite hiding places for rodents.

Sanitation will always be the number 1 weapon in the fight against rats. If all else fails, do not worry. Another option is to call in the best pest control management in the Carolinas, Go-Forth Pest Control.

Let Go-forth Pest Control Handle The Job

No home or pest is the same, so there is no cookie-cutter solution.  At Go-Forth Pest Control, we have professional technicians who will examine your home and your lawn to evaluate your individual necessity. We will identify points of entry and make treatments as necessary. We only use state of the art equipment to keep up with these ever-evolving pests.

We bring in a new and fresh approach to the pest control industry, using family-friendly and pet-friendly methods of extermination that caters to your specific needs. Our expert experience in exterminating pests like cockroaches, wasps, weevils, mosquitoes, mice, flies, termites, ants, and spiders can really make you say goodbye to these pests in your home. You may check us on Facebook or Google us to see what our satisfied customers have to say about us.

Go-Forth Pest Control has earned the trust of residents and businesses in North Carolina for more than 50 years. For more information, or to set an appointment, just dial 336-841-6111. Our friendly operators are standing by.

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