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Leptospirosis, which can also be known as Weil’s disease, is an infection you can get from animals (rats, mice, cows, pigs and dogs). It is spread by contaminated urine of infected animals. It is usually found in hot, wet, and humid areas of Queensland.

Leptospirosis is a notifiable disease.

If you or any of your workers contract leptospirosis, you must notify us.

How can you catch leptospirosis?

You can catch leptospirosis from infected animals if their urine gets onto your skin that is broken (e.g. You have cuts, scratches or rashes), into your eyes or mouth, or if you drink contaminated water. The bacteria need warm and wet conditions to thrive.

How can you get infected?

  • you work in a piggery or dairy
  • you work with animals or animal parts (a vet, butcher, meat processing worker or farm worker)
  • contact with water used to wash out animal pens
  • you work in a contaminated environment (sewer workers, plumbers, fishing industry)
  • you work in agriculture, in particular on a cane or banana farm
  • if you use infected manure in your garden, if rats or mice have been in the potting mix
  • walking or wading barefoot through floodwaters or mud from flood waters
  • outdoor freshwater activities like water sports, fishing, kayaking
  • dealing with a rat or mouse nest without protective gear.

You can’t catch it from infected people.

What are the risks of leptospirosis?

It can take between five and 30 days for symptoms to appear if you get infected. Sometimes people get no symptoms. Often, symptoms are relatively mild and you might think you have a flu. For example, you may experience:

  • fever, chills
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • sore throat, cough
  • nausea, vomiting
  • rash
  • loss of appetite.

If you develop a severe form of leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) the symptoms usually come on suddenly one to three days after the milder, flu-like symptoms have passed. The symptoms vary depending on the organs infected. Sometimes it can be very serious and even fatal.

In animals the symptoms include:

  • abortion or still births
  • decline in quality and quantity of milk
  • bloody port wine coloured urine
  • rough, dry coat
  • severe fever and death in young animals.

If you think you have leptospirosis in your herd, call a vet for diagnosis and treatment. Talk to your vet about vaccination and other biosecurity options.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of hazards at work. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Read more about good work design and how you can create safe work.

For workers

As a worker, you have a responsibility under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and for others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do. You must follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer.

Use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures, and attend training. If something is unclear, or you are uncertain, ask for an explanation.

For businesses

For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), it’s your duty to manage leptospirosis infection risks, as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

You must provide and maintain a working environment where the employees, contractors and visitors are not exposed to hazards:

  • Ensure safe systems of work are in place.
  • Implement safe work practices and provide information, training and supervision.
  • Encourage an environment of consultation and cooperation.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), and ensure there are systems for PPE inspection, maintenance, cleaning and storage.

Following the four-step risk management process below will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws. You can also use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Four steps to manage risk

Educate yourself on the symptoms of leptospirosis in animals.

Workers can be exposed to the bacteria by skin or eye contact, breathing in droplets, or swallowing contaminated water.

  1. Inspect your business
    Think about your workplace and note where your work environment or processes create the risk of exposure to leptospirosis.
  2. Talk to your workers
    Talk to your workers to find out if they have any health and safety concerns. A confidential survey could give workers who are less likely to speak out in public a chance to provide feedback.
  3. Review information
  • Monitor where leptospirosis is reported in your region
  • Use your own records of reported infections, sick leave, and other notes.
  • Read the information provided by industry bodies (such as Meat and Livestock Australia), as well as the relevant legislation and codes of practice.
  • Research how other workplaces have managed leptospirosis risks. Ask your peers and advisors, and use the internet to find information specific to your situation.

Find more information on how to identify risks in How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Do a risk assessment to establish:

  • if there is a risk to you or others
  • whether any effective control measures are already in place
  • what actions you could take to control the risk
  • how urgently you should act.

A risk assessment can include looking at:

  • the nature of your work and how this exposes workers and others
  • what inductions and training you have in place
  • whether the work is required or if it can be rescheduled, reorganised, or restructured to reduce the risk
  • seasonal considerations (e.g. wet season)

Use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide and record your assessments.

After assessing the risk, use control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk. Eliminate leptospirosis risks as much as reasonably possible. If this is not possible, minimise the risks.

The hierarchy of control is a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risk. It ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability through to the lowest and least reliable protection.

Implement control measures in this order:

  • Level 1: Get rid of the harm and prevent the risk.
  • Level 2: Replace the hazard with something less harmful, separate people from the hazard, or change work processes or the physical work environment.
  • Level 3: Use administrative controls to reduce exposure (such as limiting time spent in a hazardous area) or use personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect people from harm.

Eliminate the risk of exposure to leptospirosis:

  • There is no human vaccination for leptospirosis.
  • Leptospira bacteria are quickly killed by soap, disinfectants or bleach, and drying.
  • Vaccinate your livestock and dogs against leptospirosis if that will work for your situation.
  • Keep work areas, storage, food, bedding, etc clear of rats and mice.

Minimise the risk of exposure to leptospirosis:

  • Change work processes and redesign tasks to minimise the number of workers exposed to infection.
  • Update or improve your workspace to keep it cleaner and drier.
  • Wear protective clothing (gloves, eye shields or goggles, aprons, and waterproof boots) when working with animals or animal parts that could be infected, especially if there is a chance of contact with their urine.
  • Wear waterproof protective clothing (if possible) and boots outdoors, especially when walking in faeces, mud or wet soil.
  • Wear gloves when cutting bananas or cane, gardening, or working with soil.
  • Cover cuts and abrasions with a waterproof dressing. Wash and dry the area before changing the dressing afterwards.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling anything that may be contaminated. Wash your hands with soap and dry them thoroughly before smoking, eating or drinking.

Other control measures:

  • Have a biosecurity plan for your workplace.
  • Have a safe system of work for keeping areas clean, dry and well drained as much as possible.
  • Clean and disinfect anywhere that is contaminated with animal urine or has signs of mice and rats.
  • Give your staff the information, training and supervision they need to protect themselves from leptospirosis risks.
  • Display awareness and information posters in staff areas.
  • Have handwashing and shower facilities (including soap, disinfectant, and something to dry hands with) for workers to use. Display “how to wash your hands” signs in the bathrooms and lunchrooms.
  • Don’t eat or serve food that rats or mice may have been on or near.
  • Don’t drink untreated water. If you need to use untreated water, make it safe to drink by boiling or using an appropriate chemical treatment, especially if collecting from a source that could be contaminated by floodwater or yard runoff.
  • Don’t walk barefoot through water or mud that may be infected (yard runoff, drainage trenches).
  • Don’t touch dead animals with your bare hands.
  • Don’t feed raw offal to your dogs. This increases the risk of them getting leptospirosis and passing it to humans.

Risk management is an ongoing process. Check regularly to make sure the control measures are working. If you find problems or if you have a leptospirosis infection or outbreak, go through the steps again, review the information, and decide whether you need new controls.

Under the work health and safety laws you must review the controls:

  • when you become aware that a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might create a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

You can find a list to help you find any issues in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

What to do if a person is exposed to leptospirosis

Leptospira bacteria are quickly killed by soap, disinfectants, and drying.

First aid

  • Wash and dry your hands with soap, and dry thoroughly.
  • Wash your face well, taking particular care with facial hair, use soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
  • Have a shower, dry yourself carefully, and get into clean, dry clothes.
  • Clean any wounds as soon as possible with clean water and soap or disinfectant.
  • Flush your eyes and mouth with lots of clean water.

Next steps

  • Record in the incident register.
  • Tell a supervisor.
  • See a doctor and tell them you have been exposed to leptospirosis. Treatment has the most chance of success if it begins as soon as possible after exposure is known or suspected. Some doctors aren’t familiar with the symptoms of leptospirosis and they will do a blood test to confirm infection.
  • Notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland that someone has contracted a leptospirosis infection.

Contact us on 1300 362 128 for information on managing infectious diseases at work.

Contact Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for information on infectious diseases.

Ask your general practitioner or local public health unit if you have concerns about possible exposure to infectious diseases.