Leptospirosis

Safety Alert | 11/07/2018

This safety alert reminds you of the potential risks from a bacterial infection called leptospirosis, and the measures that you should implement to control the risks.

Background

Although leptospirosis is relatively rare in Australia, some occupations such as farm workers are at higher risk.

Over the past three months, some workers on berry farmsin the Coffs Harbour-Woolgoolga area have fallen ill with a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. The infection is carried by mice, rats and other animals, and those affected get symptoms such as fevers, headaches, chills, muscle aches, joint aches, red eyes, stomach pain and vomiting.

Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, and a doctor may prescribe them before testing for infection. Testing can take some time and the disease can be severe.

For farm workers, the organism usually enters the body through skin cuts or abrasions and there are several ways farm workers can prevent leptospirosis.

Contributing factors

  • People at risk are those who have close contact with animals or are exposed to water, mud, soil, or vegetation that has been contaminated with animal urine.
  • Some occupations are at higher risk – for example, sugar cane and banana farmers, veterinarians and abattoir workers.
  • Although leptospirosis is relatively rare in Australia, it is more common in warm and moist regions, such as north-eastern NSW and Queensland.
  • Because there are many different strains of leptospira bacteria, it is possible for someone to be infected with one strain and develop another strain later.

What are the symptoms?

  • Common initial symptoms are flu-like:
    • headaches
    • muscle aches
    • fevers and chills
    • coughs.
  • Other symptoms include:
  • conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • yellowing of skin and eyes.
  • Some people with leptospirosis go on to develop complications, such as Weil's disease – kidney failure, jaundice, and skin and mucous membrane haemorrhages – and meningitis – inflammation of the lining of the brain.
  • Most people who develop severe disease require hospitalisation and severe leptospirosis can sometimes be fatal.
  • Symptoms usually develop between five and 14 days following infection – although it can develop from two to 30 days –and last from a few days to three weeks, or longer.

Controls/prevention

To prevent leptospirosis, consider these control measures:

  • Clean-up rubbish and remove food sources that are close to facilities, or any onsite accommodation.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in water that could possibly be contaminated with animal urine.
  • Cover cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings, especially before coming in contact with soil, mud or water that may be contaminated with animal urine.
  • Wear protective clothing – for example, gloves, goggles, aprons, boots – when working with animals that could be infected, or especially if there’s a chance of contact with urine (perhaps from rats on vegetation).
  • Shower after work and wash cuts, scratches and pricks.
  • Wash hands with soap, especially before smoking and eating – the bacteria are quickly killed by soap, disinfectants and drying.
  • Give training and information to workers on good hygiene and decontamination practices.
  • Short term, prophylactic antibiotic medication (where prescribed by a medical practitioner) may help prevent infection where transmission cannot be prevented by hygiene and other controls

Further information

See the leptospirosis fact sheet from NSW Health.

Call us on 13 10 50 about incidents of leptospirosis. And notify your insurer within 48 hours. The maximum penalty for failing to notify is $50,000 for a body corporate and $10,000 for an individual.

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Contact Us

Email
contact@safework.nsw.gov.au
Telephone
13 10 50