Leptospirosis Outbreak Plagues New York City

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Leptospirosis, a rare disease spread by rat urine, has caused more cases in 2021 than ever before recorded in New York City.

In September, the New York City Department of Health issued a public advisory on the increase in cases of leptospirosis in the city. Leptospirosis is a rare bacterial disease caused by the corkscrew-shaped Leptospira interrogans. The infectious disease spreads through contact with water or soil contaminated with urine from infected animals. Pigs, horses, dogs, and rodents are some of the most common animals that carry the bacterium. The bacteria can enter humans either through the skin, eyes, nose, or mouth.

Once infected, the disease can present with a wide variety of symptoms such as fever, headache, jaundice, abdominal pain, rash, and red eyes. Moreover, the signs and symptoms often mimic other diseases which can further delay diagnosis and treatment.  

If left untreated, the disease can progress to more severe disease, also called Weil’s disease. This results in kidney failure liver damage, haemorrhage, meningitis, or shock. Fortunately, antibiotics and supportive therapy have proven successful at treating the disease

Rat Urine Blamed for Increasing Cases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 million cases of leptospirosis occur worldwide. In the United States, the incidence is quite rare. However, compared to previous years, the city of New York has faced a significantly increased number of cases. So far, 15 cases have come forward; 13 of them underwent hospitalization due to severe disease and one died from the infection. Previously, the most reported cases in a year were seven.

According to the Health Department, one person acquired the infection while travelling; however, others were locally acquired cases. Health officials believe the outbreak is likely the result of a rat infestation in the city. Therefore, they are advising avoiding contact with rats and areas where there might be rat urine present. Moreover, they recommend people use bleach and water for cleaning areas with rats. And people travelling to tropical regions should avoid swimming in water that might contain animal urine.

Source: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

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