What is Weil’s disease?
Weil’s disease is a severe form of leptospirosis. This is a type of bacterial
infection. It’s caused by Leptospira bacteria.
You can contract it if you come into contact
with the urine, blood, or tissue of animals or rodents that are infected with
the bacteria. These may include:
You can also contract it from contact with
contaminated soil or water.
Leptospirosis typically causes mild flu-like
symptoms, such as headache and chills. If the bacteria infect some specific
organs, there may be a more severe reaction. These organs include:
This reaction is known as Weil’s disease. In
rare cases, it can lead to organ failure and death.
If you’re diagnosed with leptospirosis, your
doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat it. But if you develop
Weil’s disease, you may need to be admitted to a hospital for extra care.
What are the symptoms of Weil’s disease?
The symptoms of leptospirosis usually appear
within 5 to 14 days after you become infected by Leptospira bacteria, reports the New York State Department of Health. But symptoms can develop anywhere from 2 to 30 days after
infection, with an average of 10 days after initial exposure.
The presentation of leptospirosis is highly
variable. In most cases of leptospirosis, your symptoms will be relatively
mild. For example, you may experience:
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
In rare cases, you may develop Weil’s disease,
a severe form of leptospirosis. The symptoms of Weil’s disease usually develop
one to three days after milder symptoms of leptospirosis have passed. The
symptoms can vary depending on which organs are infected.
Liver, kidney, and heart
If your kidneys, liver, or heart become
infected by Leptospira bacteria, you
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- swollen ankles, feet, or hands
- painful swelling of your liver
- decreased urination
- shortness of breath
- rapid heartbeat
- jaundice, a condition in which your skin and the white parts of
your eyes become yellowish in color
If your brain becomes infected, your symptoms
- high fever
- neck rigidity or pain
- confused mental state
- aggressive behavior
- inability to control your movements
- inability to speak
- aversion to lights
If your lungs become infected, your symptoms may
- high fever
- shortness of breath
- coughing up blood
What causes Weil’s disease?
Weil’s disease is caused by Leptospira bacteria. If your infection is mild, it’s
known as leptospirosis. If you develop a severe infection, it’s known as Weil’s
Leptospira bacteria typically infect some farm animals, dogs, and rodents.
You can become infected with the bacteria if
your eyes, mouth, nose, or open cuts on your skin come into contact with:
- urine, blood, or tissue from an
animal that carries the bacteria
- water that’s contaminated with
- soil that’s contaminated with the
You can also contract leptospirosis if you’re
bitten by an animal that is infected by it.
Who is at risk of Weil’s disease?
Leptospirosis is primarily an occupational
disease. This means it’s usually work-related. It most commonly affects people who
work in close proximity to animals, animal tissues, or animal waste products.
Animals known to spread leptospirosis to
- reptiles and amphibians
- rats and other rodents, which are the most important reservoir for
People who are at a higher risk of
contracting leptospirosis include:
- freshwater fishermen
- butchers and others who work with dead animals
- people who engage in water sports, like swimming, canoeing,
rafting, or kayaking
- people who bathe in fresh water lakes, rivers, or canals
- rodent control workers
- sewer workers
and Weil’s disease are found worldwide, but they’re more
common in tropical regions than temperate zones.
How is Weil’s disease diagnosed?
If you develop a mild case of leptospirosis,
it may be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms tend to resemble those of other conditions,
such as the flu. Weil’s disease is easier to diagnose because the symptoms are
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will likely
start by taking your medical history. Tell your doctor if you:
- have recently travelled
- have participated in water sports
- have come in contact with a freshwater source
- have an occupation that involves working with animals or animal
If your doctor suspects you may have
leptospirosis or another bacterial infection, they may order blood tests, urine
tests, or both.
Laboratory staff can test a sample of your
blood or urine for Leptospira bacteria.
In the case of Weil’s disease, your doctor may also perform imaging scans, such
as chest X-rays, and more bloodwork to check your liver and kidney function.
Scans and tests can also help your doctor learn which of your organs may be infected.
How is Weil’s disease treated?
Most cases of simple leptospirosis are mild
and self-limiting, meaning they resolve on their own. If you’re diagnosed with
Weil’s disease, you may be hospitalized. In the hospital, you will likely receive
antibiotics intravenously. This will help clear the underlying bacterial
infection. Penicillin and doxycycline are two of the preferred antibiotics.
You may also receive additional treatments,
depending on your symptoms and which organs are affected. For example, if
you’re having trouble breathing, you may be connected to a ventilator. If your
kidneys have been infected and damaged, you may need to undergo dialysis.
Ask your doctor for more information about
your diagnosis, treatment plan, and outlook.
What are the potential complications of Weil’s disease?
If left untreated, Weil’s disease can lead to
kidney failure, liver failure, or heart failure. In rare cases, it may result
If you suspect you may have Weil’s disease,
make an appointment with your doctor. Starting antibiotics quickly can greatly
improve your chances of recovery. Your doctor may also prescribe other
treatments to help manage potential complications.
can Weil’s disease be prevented?
Scientists have developed vaccines that seem
to provide some protection against leptospirosis. Vaccines for humans are only
available in some countries, such as Cuba and France. However, these vaccines
may only protect against certain forms of Leptospira
bacteria, and they may not provide long-term immunity.
There’s no vaccine available for humans in
the United States, although vaccines are available for dogs, cattle, and some
If you work with animals or animal products,
you can lower your risk of infection by wearing protective gear that includes:
- waterproof shoes
You should also follow proper sanitation and
rat-control measures to help prevent the spread of Leptospira bacteria. Rodents are one of the primary carriers of
Avoid stagnant water and water from farm runoffs,
and minimize animal contamination of food or food waste.