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Caused by Leptospira bacteria, leptospirosis is an infectious disease that affects both humans and animals, including cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents (rats, mice) and wild animals. Often, infected animals do not have any symptoms but they may excrete the bacteria into the environment.

Humans can become infected through contact with urine or other body fluids (except saliva) from infected animals or from contact with water, soil or food contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The bacteria can enter a person's body through cuts or scratches in the skin, or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters or more recently people have acquired leptospirosis through travel to remote wilderness locations to compete in adventure racing. These activities may include kayaking, canoeing, swimming, hiking, or climbing in remote unfamiliar areas of the world. Person-to-person transmission is rare.

In humans, leptospirosis can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. For example, infection may cause flu-like symptoms, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes or mucous membranes), vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash. Some infected persons may have no symptoms at all.

Leptospiriosis requires medical attention and can be treated with antibiotics. Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress and even death.

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