Most divers are aware of decompression illnesses but few are aware of some other illnesses such as Weils disease. More prevalent in the tropics it is still a disease UK divers should be aware of.
Weils disease or technically speaking Leptospirosis is a disease that can pass from animal urine to humans via water or moist soil. Most prevalent in spring and autumn the bacteria carrying the disease enters the body via open cuts or mucus membranes such as the eyes. Rats, mice, cattle and moles are the most common hosts but a variety of mammals can carry the bacteria.
Obviously as divers, we are often in still water around the banks where these mammals live so there is a health risk to divers. Generally there is no risk of transmission from human to human. The disease symptoms appear like flu, headaches, aches, fever, vomiting, etc. The incubation period can be from a few days to a couple of weeks. It is really important to get diagnosed quickly so if the symptoms do become apparent make sure you let your doctor know you have been in an environment that may have left you susceptible to the disease. The disease can attack the kidneys in severe cases, so prompt diagnosis and treatment is essential.
In the UK in 2011 under 50 cases were reported but a few proved fatal with the most publicised being that of Olympic rower Andy Holmes MBE who tragically is reported to have died from his infection. In most cases antibiotics can treat the infection leading to a full recovery.
Avoiding the disease is not necessarily easy. Static/stagnant water near where mammals may urinate are the most common areas. Keeping your mask on to cover the eyes and nose will certainly help. Avoid water entering your mouth so avoid spitting your regulator out, keep it in from entering the water to exiting. Although a vaccine is available it is rare in the UK. After the dive wash your kit extensively and wash your hands before eating and drinking.
Have you experienced or know a diver that has contracted Weils disease? Had you heard of this illness before reading this post? Did your instructor tell you about Weils disease when you trained? We’d love to know…