Weil's disease, pronounced "viles," and also known as leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. Humans usually contract the disease through exposure to food, or water, contaminated with the urine of infected animals. In urban areas, rats are the most common culprits. Some people may be exposed to the bacteria and have no symptoms, others may experience symptoms associated with the acute stage of the infection. A rare few may experience the more severe second phase, when the bacteria invade the organs. The second phase is rare and, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only occurs in five to 10 per cent of all infections.
Primary Phase Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms are a fever above 37.8 degrees Celsius accompanied by headache and chills. There may also be severe joint pain and muscle pain---particularly in the calves. Less commonly, the patient can experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. He may have a cough or sore throat and a skin rash.
Second Phase Signs and Symptoms
The second phase occurs about a week after the acute phase and the symptoms vary depending on the infected organ. The disease can infect the brain, kidneys or liver as well as the eyes and lungs. The second phase is more serious than the primary phase and may require hospitalisation.
Second Phase Brain Symptoms
The brain symptoms mimic those of meningitis such as severe headache, sensitivity to light and a stiff neck.
Second Phase Kidney Symptoms
When the bacteria infect the kidneys it can cause kidney failure, allowing toxins to build up in the blood. The increase in toxins causes swelling in the extremities and shortness of breath as well as a loss of appetite and fatigue.
Second Phase Liver Symptoms
An infection in the liver causes the symptoms of hepatitis including jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), pain over the liver and nausea. There is also weight loss and tiredness as well as alcohol intolerance. Without treatment, the condition can lead to liver failure and even death.
Second Phase Eye Symptoms
The iris and retina may become infected, causing a condition known as uveitis. The symptoms of uveitis include sensitivity to light, blurred vision and floaters or dots moving across the field of vision. The eyes may also become red and painful.
Second Phase Lung Symptoms
Patients with a leptospirosis infection in the lungs may cough up blood and experience shortness of breath. In severe cases the bacteria can damage the lungs causing potentially fatal internal bleeding and loss of lung function.