Symptoms of leptospirosis 

The symptoms of leptospirosis usually develop suddenly around 7 to 14 days after exposure to the leptospira bacteria.

However, it is possible for symptoms to develop from between 2 and 30 days after exposure.

About 90% of leptospirosis infections only cause mild symptoms, including:

  • a high temperature (fever) that is usually between 38C and 40C (100.4-104-F)
  • chills
  • sudden headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle pain, particularly affecting the muscles in the calves and lower back
  • conjunctivitis (irritation and redness of the eyes)
  • cough 
  • a short-lived rash

These symptoms usually resolve within five to seven days. However, in about 10% of cases people go on to experience more serious symptoms.

Severe leptospirosis

Severe leptospirosis infections are sometimes called Weil's disease. The symptoms of a severe infection usually develop one to three days after the more mild symptoms have passed.

If the condition progresses to a severe infection, it may affect organs, including the brain, liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. This can lead to further symptoms, including:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • swollen ankles, feet or hands
  • chest pain
  • symptoms of meningitis or encephalitis, such as headaches, vomiting and seizures
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up blood

If left untreated, the infection may be life threatening, and could lead to brain damage, kidney failure, internal bleeding and loss of lung function.

Page last reviewed: 12/11/2014

Next review due: 12/11/2016