Hurricanes, Flooding and Leptospirosis

Updated June 5, 2023

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that occurs worldwide and can cause serious illnesses such as kidney or liver failure, meningitis, difficulty breathing, and bleeding. Cases of leptospirosis can increase after hurricanes or floods when people may be exposed to contaminated water or use it for drinking or bathing.

How do people get leptospirosis?

  • Encountering water or soil containing urine or bodily fluids from infected animals
  • Directly touching urine or bodily fluids from an infected animal
  • Eating food or drinking water contaminated by urine

How does it spread?

  • Animals like rodents, dogs, livestock and wildlife can spread leptospirosis
  • During hurricanes or heavy rain events, animal urine in the soil and other surfaces can get into floodwater, contaminating it and other natural water sources like streams

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

Symptoms usually start from 5 to 14 days after contact with the bacteria that causes leptospirosis. However, symptoms can begin anywhere from 2 to 30 days after contact. Early symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Red eyes
  • Vomiting/nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Skin rash
  • Cough

If you have symptoms of leptospirosis, see a doctor as soon as possible. Early treatment with antibiotics may help prevent more severe illness and decrease how long you are sick.

How can I avoid leptospirosis?

  • Treat water to make it safe to drink by boiling or using an appropriate chemical treatment.
  • Cover cuts or scratches with waterproof bandages or other coverings that seal out water.
  • Do not wade, swim, bathe, submerse your head in, or swallow floodwater or any fresh water source that may contain animal urine or be contaminated by floodwater runoff.
  • Wear waterproof protective clothing, shoes or boots near floodwater or other water or soil that may be contaminated with animal urine.
  • Prevent rodent infestation by keeping food, water and trash in closed containers, and trapping any rodents you see.