Is leptospirosis fatal? NYC plagued by rare disease spread through rat urine

Is leptospirosis fatal? NYC plagued by rare disease spread through rat urine
Most of the leptospirosis cases were linked to severe rat infestations around the city (Represenational image: @ladymolecatcher/Twitter)

As the world still battles the Covid-19 pandemic, New York City is witnessing another rare disease called leptospirosis. As per reports, the disease is caused by rat urine. At least 15 cases of leptospirosis, or Weil's disease, have been reported in the Big Apple this year. The disease has also caused one death. 

Between 2006 and 2020, only 57 cases of leptospirosis had been reported in New York. With as many as 15 cases in 2021, the year already accounts for over 25 percent of the total over the previous decade-and-a-half. The disease spreads from animals to human beings. Experts did not provide a specific reason how the outbreak occurred this year, but they said it is likely because humans are getting in contact with infected rat urine, and that the rise in temperatures and other climate-related factors could possibly also play a role.


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Carriers and symptoms

A person can get infected with the disease if they come in contact with infected animal urine through food or water. Besides rats, other animals including cows, pigs, horses and dogs can also transfer the disease to humans.

Symptoms of the disease may appear between two days to four weeks after a person is infected with the bacteria. The symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, abdominal pain and diarrhea, among others. Some prople are also likely to suffer from jaundice -- an illness that can cause a person's skin and eyes to turn yellow. While the symptoms usually disappear, in some cases they can return for a second and more serious phase, where patients can experience kidney or liver failure, meningitis, or may even die.

The National Institutes of Health published a study in 2015, which said that there are more than one million cases of the disease across the globe, and 58,900 deaths from it every year. In the US, however, there are only 100 to 200 cases reported every year, with most of them coming from Puerto Rico. 

On September 22, the New York City Department of Health issued a warning about the cases suddenly rising. The warning confirmed that four of New York's five boroughs have already reported the disease. Only Staten Island has been able to keep the disease at bay so far. Health officials detected that one person got infected while traveling, and the others were all linked to severe rat infestations around the city. Three of these people were homeless. Health officials are now trying to keep the disease at bay by clearing out rat infestations.

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