Rodent disease warning

Filed in Just In by February 10, 2021

HUNTER New England Health is urging locals to be wary of leptospirosis disease due to the increase in rats and mice in the Upper Hunter.

Leptospirosis is a disease spread from animals to humans, caused by bacteria found in infected animal urine and tissues, with most cases reported from rural and regional areas with mouse plagues. 

Dr David Durrheim, Hunter New England Public Health Physician said outbreaks of the disease usually occur following exposure to water, soil and mud that has been contaminated with infected animal urine, especially rodent urine.

“The bacteria can enter the body through skin cuts or abrasions, the lining of the mouth, nose, and eyes – and in rare cases through contaminated food and water,” said Dr Durrheim.

“Some people may require hospitalisation if they experience kidney failure, jaundice, haemorrhaging of the skin and mucous membranes, meningitis or bleeding in the lungs,” he said.

Symptoms of leptospirosis mimic influenza disease and typically develop five to 14 days following infection however, people often do not develop all of the symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever;
  • Severe headache;
  • Sore muscles;
  • Chills;
  • Vomiting and
  • Red eyes.

Infection can be avoided by:

  • washing hands with soap;
  • covering cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings;
  • wearing footwear outdoors, especially when walking in mud or moist soil and wearing gloves when gardening;
  • cleaning up rubbish and removing waste close to housing;
  • avoiding contact with water (including floodwaters) where there is a possibility of contamination with animal urine.

Leptospirosis is commonly treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline or penicillin, which is often most effective if started early in the disease.

For more information, see the NSW Health fact sheet.

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