Leptospirosis - Prevention 

Preventing leptospirosis 

Although leptospirosis is rare in the UK, some simple steps can help reduce your chances of developing the condition.

Water sports in the UK 

In the UK, the rates of leptospirosis are very low so there is no reason why you should not participate in freshwater recreational activities such as swimming, sailing, water skiing or windsurfing.

However, if you are regularly involved in freshwater activities, it is a sensible precaution to cover any cuts and grazes you have with a waterproof dressing because there are other waterborne infections that you can catch, such as hepatitis A (a viral infection) or giardiasis (an infection caused by parasites). You should also shower or bathe after freshwater activities.

At work

If you have an occupation where you come into contact with animals (particularly rodents) or sources of contaminated water, such as farming or working with sewers or drains, wear adequate protective clothing. This could include waterproof gloves and boots, goggles and a mask.

Travelling abroad

If you are travelling to parts of the world where leptospirosis is widespread, you may wish to limit your exposure to freshwater sources, such as rivers, ponds or lakes. If you are unable to avoid these, you should ensure you wear adequate protective clothing.

You should also only drink sealed bottled water or fresh water that has been boiled. Always cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof dressings and clean any wounds as soon as possible.

Try to minimise your exposure to animal urine by avoiding areas where animals may have urinated, such as bedding and litter trays. If you suspect you have been exposed to animal urine, clean the affected area of skin as soon as possible.

Never touch a dead animal with your bare hands.

Read about the causes of leptospirosis for information on areas of the world where leptospirosis is more common.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics can sometimes be taken as a precaution against becoming infected. However, there is limited evidence this works for leptospirosis, so the treatment is usually only used in exceptional circumstances, such as:

  • for emergency workers working in disaster zones where there is known to be an outbreak of leptospirosis cases
  • for soldiers serving in areas where rates of leptospirosis are high
  • for animal workers contaminated by an animal known to be a carrier of the leptospira bacteria

Animal vaccination

At the moment, there isn't a vaccine that protects humans from leptospirosis, but it is possible to vaccinate cattle, dogs and some other animals.

If you think you may be at risk of contracting leptospirosis from one of your animals, you may want to consider getting them vaccinated.

Page last reviewed: 07/11/2012

Next review due: 07/11/2014

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Food and water safety abroad

Many illnesses, such as travellers’ diarrhoea, are caught from contaminated food and water. Find out how to protect yourself