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Leptospirosis cases on the rise on banana farms

There has been a rise in leptospirosis cases among banana farm workers in Queensland, raising concerns for worker health and safety.

Banana farms provide ideal conditions for leptospirosis transmission, with plenty of moisture from irrigation and heavy rainfall, creating an ideal environment for rodents and other animals that can carry the bacteria responsible for leptospirosis. Additionally, workers spend long hours outdoors, increasing the risk of exposure to contaminated soil, water, and vegetation.

To mitigate the risks of contracting leptospirosis, it is important to adhere to simple practices such as thorough handwashing before eating, drinking, smoking and after coming into contact with rodents or their nests. Promptly treating cuts with first aid and covering any non-intact skin with waterproof dressings, is essential to prevent the entry of germs.

What is leptospirosis and how do you catch it?

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by Leptospira bacteria, which is found in urine from infested animals including rats, mice, cattle, pigs and dogs. The bacteria can enter the body through skin cuts or abrasions or through the lining of the mouth, nose, and eyes by exposure to water, soil or mud contaminated with urine from infected animals. It is not transferred from person to person.

Often, symptoms of leptospirosis are mild and similar to the flu—including fever and chills, muscle aches, a sore throat and cough. Nausea, vomiting, rash and loss of appetite are more severe symptoms. It is rare that the symptoms are very serious or fatal, but vigilance is encouraged for industries working closely with animals and animal contaminated products.

How can people protect themselves from infection?

If you work with animals, make sure you cover cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressing, wear protective clothing such as gloves and boots, shower after work, wash and dry hands frequently, and do not eat or smoke when handling animals.

Other safety tips to reduce the risk of leptospirosis:

  • Control rodents by cleaning up rubbish and removing food sources that are close to housing and thoroughly clean any areas where rodents have been.
  • Wear protective footwear outdoors, especially when walking in mud or moist soil. Avoid walking barefoot on muddy surfaces or in muddy water, particularly if you have cuts or abrasions on your feet or legs.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Treat or boil water especially if collecting from a source that could be contaminated by floodwater runoff.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in water where there is a chance of contamination with animal urine or floodwater runoff.

Employers and workers can find more detailed safety protocols outlined in:

Further information

Read more on leptospirosis and preventive measures.