Weil's disease

Published: Monday, 09 December 2019

THIS is an updated copy of the advice I was given when I was working at sea, writes Keith Gudgin.

It is still relevant today although I have updated the laboratory contact details as they changed in 2015.

Resembles an attack of flue

Leptospirosis (commonly called Weil's Disease) resembles an attack of the flu and can result in serious illness or even death.  It is a bacterial infection spread in the urine of rats and other water or waterside inhabiting creatures.

Lakes, ponds, canals, harbours, marinas and any water draining from farmland or areas of human habitation are usually infected with the Leptospirosis bacterium.

This bacterium can enter the body through breaks in the skin such as cuts, grazes or sores or via the nose, mouth or alimentary tract.

Notifiable disease

Leptospirosis is a notifiable disease and diagnosis requires a blood test.  A doctor can have the testing performed by contacting the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) here <https://www.gov.uk/guidance/leptospira-reference-unit-services>

Leptospirosis is a serious illness and treatment is required urgently.  It has an incubation period of three to 19 days.


The early symptoms are:

Fever, muscular aches and pain.  Loss of appetite.  Vomiting with prostration

Later symptoms may include:

Bruising of the skin.  Sore eyes.  Nose bleeds. Jaundice

The fever can last for about five days and may be followed by rapid and significant deterioration in the condition of the patient.

Need to contact a doctor

If you become ill, particularly from three to 19 days after being in contact with the types of water described above and you have any of the symptoms described here or any concerns that you may have contracted Leptospirosis then you need to contact a doctor as soon as possible.

You will need to tell the doctor that you have been in contact with possibly infected water, and give dates and locations if possible.

Doctors can administer antibiotics before confirmation of the disease and this may be very important in preventing the full onset of the disease from developing.

Be aware that swimming in canals, lakes, harbours and rivers is not recommended even if they look really inviting on a nice warm sunny day. You may just end up with more than a quick refreshing dip.