Nigeria: Leptospirosis B - Dr Akinola

21 January 2020

In recent times, the number of people coming down with kidney disease has been on the increase and many reasons have been adduced to explain the rise in number of cases. Chief among the reasons are the rise in cases of diabetes and high blood pressure; which experts say, increase the risk of chronic kidney disease. However, one disease which experts say could lead to kidney failure, respiratory disease, meningitis, liver failure and even death if left untreated, is little known leptospirosis, considered the most widespread disease that is transmitted by animals. Interestingly, one of the reservoirs of the causative agent of leptospirosis is the ubiquitous rat, found in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, both the locals and expatriate variety popularly called Belgium Rats in local parlance. In this chat, Dr. David Akinola, Deputy Director, Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, speaks on leptospirosis, how it is spread and how it can be prevented. Excerpts:

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can be found among human beings and some animals especially when they are infected with the infective agent. The infective agent is leptospira interrogans. Once one is infected by leptospira interrogans, then one can go on to develop leptospirosis which we come across in several stages.

Zoonotic disease

We can also look at it as a zoonotic disease since it is spread through animals either domestic or wild animals and as such, those people that are particularly at risk are those exposed to these animals that carry the causative agent.

Can be transmitted by rats

Yes, it can be transmitted through a wide range of animals including rats, especially the big ones, although the smaller ones can still carry it. It has been reported to be transmitted through dogs, horses, cattle, pigs, rodents and wild animals.

Those at risk

People that handle horses, especially military personnel who from time to time make use of horses for one thing or the other are at risk. Apart from the rats and big rodents in the bush, other wild animals are incriminated. Everyone that handles all these animals, even people who work in the slaughter houses that handle animals, as well as those who work in abattoirs, are also at risk.

Virtually anybody that is exposed animals or their urine is at risk. The urine can contaminate the soil and water.

Poor waste management/disposal

Again, leptospirosis is more likely to be common where there is poor waste disposal method or where sanitation is poor. That is why it is found more commonly when there is flood; the water can carry the animal urine which can contaminate a lot of water bodies. Some can run into boreholes, waste, streams and some of the oceans where people go to swim and the fishermen who go to fish. The risk of contracting the disease is very high among this group of people.

Like I mentioned, if you have individuals who are carriers of the bacteria, they can also spread the bacteria through their urine.

Some carriers show no symptoms

Another thing is that individuals who carry the bacteria can keep on spreading the bacteria for a long period of time, up to 11 or 12 months even though they don't fall sick or show signs of the illness, they are carriers. However, the disease is more likely to be spread by animals. So because of the poor sanitary condition of the environment, any time it rains, the water carries the bacteria to other places. The bacteria can also last long in the soil before they are carried away and with water, the bacteria can go a very long distance, away from the primary source.

Preventive measures

Since leptospirosis is spread mainly by contact with water or soil contaminated by the urine of infected animals, water bodies should be treated (chlorinated), keep your environment clean and dispose your waste properly.

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