It was with much sadness that I learnt of the death of Andy Holmes. The gold Olympic Games medalist, who coxed alongside Sir Steve Regrave, died from Weil’s disease, known collectively as leptospirosis.
Weil’s disease is an illness that is very rare. It is carried in the urine of infected animals, particularly rats, and is caught through contact with water or areas contaminated by the urine of infected animals. Bacteria enter through skin abrasions or via eyes, nose or mouth.
The infection is a problem for watersport athletes because it can be caught by coming into contact with river water contaminated by rat urine. The bacteria does not survive long in dry conditions or salt water. The risk of infection is greater in stagnant or slow-moving water but cases have occurred in swift moving streams and lowland rivers. There is an enhanced risk where flash floods have washed out rat runs.
Deaths from Weil’s disease are higher in countries where hygene is poor. In England and Wales, Weil’s disease is very rare, with an average of 40 cases being reported each year. Since 1996, there have been four deaths from Weil’s disease.
Protect yourself from Weil’s Disease
To minimize contracting Weil’s disease you should avoid direct skin contact with soil, vegetation or water where there may be animal droppings or urine. Never go barefoot into stables, byres, muddy soil or anywhere that animals may have been grazing. Swimming or paddling in ponds, lakes or pools to which animals have access is potentially dangerous.
These precautions are especially important where there are open cuts or sores on the skin. These should be washed gently, painted with iodine or some similar disinfectant and covered with a protective dressing. If flu-like symptoms develop within a couple of weeks be sure to mention any possible exposure to a doctor. A course of antibiotics will effectively deal with the bacteria causing the illness.
Savvas Othon, Technical Director at Rentokil Pest Control, comments, “as rats are nocturnal and usually hide from humans it’s hard to identify them in a commercial site. Typical signs that you have an unwelcome guest may include:
- Droppings – rats leave dark, tapered droppings about 10-14mm long
- Smears – grease marks from the rats bodies as they repeatedly brush up against objects
- Damaged stock and damage to the fabric of premises
- Nesting material – shredded insulation, cardboard, wood, plastics etc
- Distinctive smell – rats leave an ammonia-like smell, that is particularly strong in enclosed areas.”
If you suspect you have rats call in the experts.
It is difficult to estimate the UK rat population but help us build up a bigger picture of the problem by posting a sighting on this blog or tweet #rentokil