Signs & Symptoms of Weil's Disease

Updated April 17, 2017

Weil's disease is part of a subset of diseases called infectious bacterial diseases. This class of diseases is highly contagious and extremely dangerous. Weil's disease, which is also known as leptospirosis, is rare and extremely difficult to diagnose, as is evidenced by its symptoms.

The Disease Course

Leptospirosis runs itself much like the flu. The period of incubation within the body is about 3 weeks, with symptoms presenting themselves between 3 and 14 days. The disease will typically ebb after a few days, giving the appearance of recovery, before returning.

First Phase

The disease hits people suddenly, starting with flulike symptoms including muscle pain, nausea and a fever higher than 38.9 degrees C. Severe headaches also accompany the first phase, hitting suddenly with the pressure and pain of a migraine. In about one-third of all leptospirosis, the individual infected will develop a rash. This rash is similar in appearance to that which is caused by meningitis. It will appear red with a series of pinpricked-shaped valleys. The bacteria is alive in the bloodstream during this time period. In mild cases, the disease will be fought by white blood cells and kept at bay. In severe cases, the blood-borne bacteria could cause the body to go into septic shock. The first phase will often last 3 to 5 days.

Second Phase

The second window of the disease does not open in mild cases. Typically restricted to moderate to severe cases of leptospirosis, a second phase will usually manifest itself after 2 to 3 days of apparent recovery. This second stage is usually more aggressive, with the return of the fever, headache and muscle pain, as well as pain in the upper torso and additional symptoms that mimic meningitis--neck stiffness, vomiting and kidney issues. Mild cases will clear up completely in 3 to 5 weeks.

Signs of Severity

In more serious cases, people with leptospirosis can expect severe, and oftentimes, fatal, organ trauma. Jaundice will onset, indicative of liver and kidney failure. The bacteria will also cause infections in the heart and cause massive internal bleeding. Individuals in poor health will see the disease onset and progress much quicker, with death an almost certainty.

Treating Weil's Disease

Massive doses of antibiotics are required to treat the disease. Doctors will prescribe chloramphenicol, erythromycin, penicillins and tetracyclines to fight the infection. In severe cases affecting the kidneys and liver, dialysis is considered a crucial treatment to assist the body in maintaining renal health.

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About the Author

Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.