PETALING JAYA: Those who fall sick after returning from a picnic or after a flood should get themselves checked and not assume they are suffering from influenza, a leptospirosis (rat urine disease) expert said.
Universiti Putra Malaysia professor of veterinary bacteriology Datuk Dr Abdul Rani Bahaman said when people get a fever after visiting recreational places such as waterfalls, pools or rivers, or after being exposed to floodwaters, they should not mistake leptospirosis for influenza.
“Once they get the signs – fever, headache and muscle pain similar to flu – they should see a doctor straight away because antibiotics will kill the bacteria,” he said.
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira.
It was reported yesterday that the Gunung Berlumut recreational area in Kluang, Johor, had been ordered to close after two siblings aged five and seven contracted leptospirosis there.
The children started suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting on Feb 18 and were warded at the Kulai hospital on Feb 23, where they were treated for acute gastroenteritis and discharged the following day.
The leptospirosis notice, however, was issued only after their second blood test on March 13 showed the presence of the bacteria.
Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said Kulai health officers immediately conducted an investigation and found that nine others who were on the same trip had experienced similar symptoms at around the same time.
Dr Abdul Rani said although some people may experience only mild symptoms, the leptospirosis-causing bacteria could multiply fast and enter the brain and cause headaches, the liver and cause inflammation or the lungs and cause bleeding.
“Leptospirosis outbreaks have been reported many times during floods in major cities and patients may get a mild or severe infection.
“The symptoms will appear after a few days or a week or two later, depending on the type of leptospirosis,” he added.
There are 37 Leptospira serovars (serotypes) in Malaysia, Dr Abdul Rani explained.
Asked if people could recover without taking antibiotics, Dr Abdul Rani said it would depend on the person’s immunity and the serotype because some can cause severe symptoms, others mild while some do not cause any problems.
“But once leptospirosis is suspected, it is imperative that treatment with antibiotics be given immediately to prevent clinical disease.
“Unlike flu or dengue, antibiotics are very effective against leptospirosis,” he added.
Dr Abdul Rani said the bacteria could enter through wounds, the eyes, nose and mouth.