25 Jul 2017

City doctors warned to be vigilant of leptospirosis

1:37 pm on 25 July 2017

City doctors are being told they need to watch out for cases of the stock animal-related disease leptospirosis because it is becoming more common in urban areas.

A medical professional takes notes while talking to a female patient.

All doctors are being urged to be aware of leptospirosis, whether they are in a farming area or a city. Photo: 123RF

The number of cases of the potentially deadly disease leptospirosis have tripled for the first six months of this year compared to some period last year, and may be linked to flooding clean-up.

People can pick up the disease if they come into contact with cow urine, and it can lead to serious illness or death.

Public health scholar Jackie Benschop said one big contributing factor was the number of floods and cyclones this year, because water could carry the disease.

She said city doctors might not be looking for leptospirosis.

"We're seeing this change and that's very concerning because people, perhaps more in the cities, might present with signs of lepto... that might look like the flu and city doctors, it may not be high up on their list as it may be for rural doctors."

Dr Benschop said all doctors need to be aware of the disease, whether they were in a farming area or a city.

"We're right here in July, right bang in the middle of our flu season, and of course we quite rightly are wanting to not use antibiotics for example in cases of flu... but in fact if people have got lepto that may well be what they need."

It was hard to tell the difference between the disease and the flu, but there were several symptoms to keep in mind said Dr Benschop.

"One of the main differentials would be if you don't have an upper respiratory, like a snotty nose or sore throat, you don't get that in lepto.

"But you do get headaches, often a very, very severe headache, sore eyes and you get the muscle aches and pains."