News & Advice

The Risk of Leptospirosis

Jun 1, 2016 | Biosecurity, Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare

Controlling leptospirosis by vaccination has historically been the primary way of preventing lepto in humans.

However vaccination only minimises the risk and there are other things which increase the risk of you contracting human lepto that we need to be sure you are aware of. Rising rates of human infection have made it clear that further steps are needed to reduce the risk of people becoming infected. Basic hygiene and care when handling animals are essential, and reducing cattle contact with potential sources of infection is also helpful. Most importantly, every person on farm needs to be regularly educated about the severity of leptospirosis, and how to reduce their own risk of infection. To minimise the risk of you contracting leptospirosis and provide you with the best service we can, we are passing this information on to you and all your staff members.

What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. Many species can be infected, including cattle, pigs, rodents, dogs and humans. Affected dairy cattle may abort (occasionally resulting in abortion storms) or may show no outward signs of infection.

How do you catch leptospirosis?
From exposure to the urine or aborted material from infected animals. The infection most commonly enters through cuts or grazes on the skin or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.
Leptospires thrive in moist conditions. Both humans and animals can be infected by contact with contaminated water.

What happens if you are infected with leptospirosis?
There are several forms of the disease, ranging from mild flulike symptoms to severe fever, light sensitivity, liver damage, vomiting, severe headaches and kidney failure. Many people are forced to give up work because the disease is so debilitating. Many people require hospitalisation. Long lasting effects occur when people suffer kidney or liver damage. 

How to prevent human infection:

  1. Vaccination of animals reduces the risk to humans, but does not eliminate it.
  2.  Basic hygiene must always be practiced.
  3.  Avoid contact with urine, such as splashes in the shed.
  4. Cover cuts with waterproof plasters.
  5. Wash hands with disinfectant.
  6. Avoid contact between hands and eyes/mouth during milkings.
  7. No smoking, eating or drinking in the shed.
  8. Wear gloves and aprons during risky procedures, such as milking, calvings or RFMs.
  9. Be especially careful around aborting cows and aborted material.

Other risk factors Pigs and rodents can be a source of infection for both cattle and humans. Ideally pigs should not be on dairy farms. If pigs are kept they should be vaccinated (at 6 monthly intervals) and should come from leptospirosis free piggeries, or be treated with antibiotics on arrival. Rodent control, especially around feed, will reduce risk. Effluent and waterways are also risks. Contact with these should be reduced by effective fencing.

I have read and understood this information – what do I do now?
• Pass the information to all staff on farm.
• Complete a Leptospirosis Risk Management Appraisal with your vet.
• Implement and maintain a leptospirosis vaccination programme and ongoing risk management training with staff.

“In the first week I thought I would die, and then I wished I had. It took a whole year out of my life, and the worst thing about it, is once you’ve got it, it doesn’t go away.” Pig farmer who caught leptospirosis.

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