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People warned not to swim in Royal Canal after outbreak of rat-borne disease

Leptospirosis is particularly a hazard for people who participate in outdoor sports.

File photo of the Royal Canal in Dublin.
File photo of the Royal Canal in Dublin.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN advised to avoid swimming and boating in the Royal Canal in north Dublin following an outbreak of a rat-borne disease.

A number of cases of Leptospirosis have been reported to the HSE recently after people were exposed to water in the canal.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection frequently found both in domestic and wild animals, which can spread to humans. The infection is usually spread through contact with rats or rat urine.

Leptospirosis is particularly a hazard for people who participate in outdoor sports.

The HSE East Department of Public Health has issued the following advice to members of the public:

  • Do not go swimming or boating in water which is obviously polluted
  • Cover any cuts or abrasions with a waterproof dressing while swimming or canoeing
  • Shower thoroughly as soon as possible following water activities
  • Make sure the sporting clothing you wear minimises your contact with water
  • Wash your hands after water activity, handling any animal or contaminated clothing, and always before eating, drinking or smoking
  • Clean any cuts acquired during swimming, fishing or other near-water activities, apply first aid as soon as possible
  • Rinse dogs who have been swimming in high risk water to reduce the risk of infection
  • High-risk workers should always wear their personal protective equipment and clothing at all times when in high-risk situations
  • If you get a flu-like illness within a three-week period after engaging in any of these activities you should visit your doctor immediately, and tell her or him of your concerns and possible exposure to dirty or stagnant water

Leptospirosis can cause a range of symptoms including fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, conjunctivitis (red/pink eye), diarrhoea and vomiting.

Meningitis, jaundice and renal failure may occur at a later stage, the HSE warned. The combination of Leptospirosis with jaundice and uraemia is known as Weil’s disease – in rare cases it can be fatal.

Cuts and scratches 

The incubation period (time from exposure to illness) is usually seven to 13 days, but the range is four to 19 days. The illness lasts from a few days to three weeks or longer. Without treatment, recovery may take several months.

If a person comes into contact with infected urine, the bacteria which causes Leptospirosis can get into their body through cuts and scratches and via the lining of the mouth, throat and eyes. Infected urine or contaminated water can be found in sewers, ditches, ponds, canals and slow-moving rivers and river banks.

People at greatest risk of acquiring Leptospirosis include those who fish, swim or use water for other recreational purposes. This would include people who engage in outdoor pursuits that brings them in contact with at-risk water such as canoeing, hiking, potholing or golfing.

“Occupations at risk would include veterinary surgeons, farmers, meat inspectors, butchers, abattoir and sewer workers. High-risk water includes stagnant, dirty-looking or obviously polluted fresh water found in ditches, drains, ponds, lakes or rivers. Sea water poses less risk,” the HSE said in a statement. 

Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin, which should be given early in the course of the disease. Intravenous antibiotics may be required for people with more severe symptoms.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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