Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which means it can be transmitted between animals and humans.
Leptospirosis is considered an occupational hazard for dairy farmers.
What Causes leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria called Leptospira There are many strains of Leptospira across multiple animal species.
Leptospirosis is considered an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors with production animals. High risk occupations include dairy farmers, beef producers, veterinarians and abattoir workers.
How is leptospirosis transmitted?
The main source of infection is through exposure to urine from infected animals. This can frequently occur during milking, artificial insemination, cattle handling or during an assisted calving.
Other sources of infection include
Contaminated foetal fluids/placental material Infected milk from clinically ill cows. Drinking unpasteurised milk can pose a significant human health risk.
The bacteria enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, abrasions in the skin or water softened feet.
Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans
Leptospirosis can present as a flu-like illness with high fever, severe headache, sore throat, muscle pain and chills. Occasionally the disease may result in neurological symptoms, limb shakes and difficulty with simple tasks, such as balancing and walking. The duration of illness can be prolonged (weeks) and may result in absence from the workplace. Relapses in symptoms are common, with a ‘washed out’ feeling which may persist for months as a result of chronic fatigue. Leptospirosis infection can cause serious problems during pregnancy and can result in abortion of the foetus.
Treatment of leptospirosis
If you suspect leptospirosis infection, seek medical attention without delay. Ensure your doctor knows of your occupation and history of working with cattle.
Prevention of leptospirosis in humans
The most effective way of protecting yourself and workers from contracting the disease is to vaccinate all groups of cattle against leptospirosis. Speak with your veterinarian about the most suitable vaccine for your herd. Prevention is also achieved by limiting exposure to the likely sources of infection. Splashguards in dairy sheds, wearing of protective clothing when assisting in calvings, and frequent washing of hands will help prevent infection.