Leptospirosis: Information for transport and sale yard workers

This fact sheet provides information about the risk of leptospirosis infection in transport and sale yard workers, and others visiting sale yards.

[image] Transport and sale hero

Key points

  • Leptospirosis is easy to catch from an infected animal and its environment.
  • Infection can occur through breaks in the skin or through mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Protect yourself, your family and staff by vaccinating your animals, controlling rodents, practicing good personal hygiene, using protective equipment, and seeking help early if you feel unwell.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans (a zoonosis), and from animal to animal, through cuts or cracks in the skin or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. It is present in almost all warm-blooded mammals, including farm, domestic and feral animals.

Leptospirosis spreads easily, and is caused by bacteria known as leptospires that multiply in the kidneys of animals and are shed in the urine. The bacteria thrive in moist or wet conditions and can survive for months.

How are people infected?

People can catch leptospirosis from infected animal urine. Even a splash or fine spray of urine or indirect contact with urine-contaminated water can spread large numbers of leptospires.

Cuts, sores and skin grazes increase the risk of infection, as does licking your lips and eating or smoking before washing and drying your hands.

What are the symptoms in people?

People affected by leptospirosis, either mildly or severely, may not show symptoms.

Infection may just feel like a bad case of the flu, with headaches and fever. Severe cases can result in permanent complications, usually kidney or liver damage. Some people may be unable to work for months and, in severe cases, be unable to return to work at all. The disease can keep coming back.

Pregnant women can miscarry. Death from infection is rare.

When are transport workers at risk of infection?

Transport workers/stock truck drivers are at risk through regular exposure to animal urine during their everyday activities, such as:

  • loading or unloading stock
  • checking the truck during transit stops
  • emptying or cleaning effluent tanks
  • hosing down the truck
  • working underneath the truck where contaminated water may collect e.g. in the wheel housing changing a tyre.

When are sale yard/stock yard workers at risk of infection?

Sale yard/stock yard workers are at risk through regular exposure to animal urine during their everyday activities, such as:

  • handling stock in the yards
  • working in or walking past auction sorting pens
  • cleaning the area with a high-pressure hose
  • handling contaminated wooden railings
  • walking in wet or muddy areas in bare feet or jandals

Who else is at risk?

Anyone visiting or working in/around transport or sale yard areas is at risk, including:

  • livestock buyers
  • stock agents
  • visitors to sales and A&P shows
  • maintenance workers, especially plumbers, tank cleaners and others working in water
  • children ‘parked’ in a buggy or pram.
[image] Close up of a cow

Watching your health

The sooner treatment starts, the better.

First aid

A readily available supply of clean water is important.

Look after your health. As soon as there is exposure to urine or infection is suspected:

  • dry off urine splash immediately (leptospires dry out easily), then wash the area
  • wash your hands and face well, taking particular care with facial hair
  • use soap and water, and dry well
  • flush out your mouth and eyes, and any exposed skin with lots of running water
  • wash out fresh or old cuts and grazes with water and disinfectant, and dry well
  • tell a supervisor.

Primary care treatment

  • See a doctor within 24 hours of suspected exposure or if flu-like symptoms develop, to get antibiotic treatment and have a blood sample taken.
  • Tell the doctor that leptospirosis may be the cause of your illness – some doctors may not be familiar with the symptoms.
  • The blood sample MUST be taken before medication is taken, and a subsequent sample may be needed 3-4 weeks later.
  • Treatment options will depend on the severity and duration of the symptoms. Antibiotic treatment should be given if leptospirosis infection is strongly suspected.
  • All patients with severe infection or signs of meningitis should be sent to hospital immediately.

Finding out more

Good practice guide: Prevention and control of leptospirosis