What is Weil’s Disease?
Weil’s Disease is a pathological bacterial infection which is caused by bacterium leptospira. This bacterial infection in its mild form is called leptospirosis and is a self limiting disease condition but when this infection gets severe and starts to affect the vital organs of the body like the heart, brain, lungs, liver, and kidney then this form of infection is what is termed as Weil’s Disease.
The bacterium in question responsible for both leptospirosis as well as Weil’s Disease is usually transmitted to humans through infected cattle, rats, dogs, pigs and the like. The infection is transmitted to humans by coming in direct contact with the urine, blood, or tissues of an infected animal.
Weil’s Disease is a condition which requires inpatient admission for treatment. An individual can also get infected with leptospira bacterium by coming in contact with contaminated soil and water.
The initial symptoms of the infection may be mild and resolve within a few days but if the infection spreads to other parts of the body then the symptoms experienced by the individual will be severe enough to warrant hospitalization for aggressive treatment.
If adequate treatment is not given to an individual with Weil’s Disease then it may lead to potential serious life threatening complications as a result of Weil’s Disease.
What are the Causes of Weil’s Disease?
As stated, Weil’s Disease is caused by a bacterial infection caused by leptospira bacteria. Initially, infection is termed as leptospirosis and if the infection spreads to involve vital organs of the body such as the brain, heart, lungs, kidney, and liver then it is termed as Weil’s Disease.
An individual can get Weil’s Disease by coming in contact with infected cattle, rats, dogs, pigs, and other animals seen in farm houses. The bacteria enters the body of the humans through the exposed areas of the body like the nose, eyes, or any cuts or bruises in the skin. An individual can also get infected if he or she is bitten by an infected animal.
What are the Symptoms of Weil’s Disease?
The onset of initial symptoms of Weil’s Disease is approximately one week after exposure to the bacteria. Initially the symptoms will be mild and include fever, chills, muscle pain, headaches, cough, nausea and vomiting. In some cases the patient may also experience appetite loss.
In majority of the cases, the symptoms resolve within a week or two but in some cases the infection spreads and further more serious symptoms develop. These symptoms are variable and depend on the organ that is affected. These symptoms may develop after a couple of days of the initial symptoms abating. The symptoms that are seen with Weil’s Disease are
- Appetite loss
- Unintentional weight loss
- Persistent fatigue
- Swelling of the extremities, either upper or lower or both
- Decreased urinary output
- Shortness of breath
- Jaundice which will clearly show involvement of the liver.
In case if the brain gets affected by Weil’s Disease then the symptoms experienced by the patient are:
- High grade fever
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Persistent drowsiness
- Altered mental state
- Behavioral problems
- Problems speaking
If the lungs are affected by Weil’s Disease then the symptoms are:
- High grade fever
- Difficulty breathing
How is Weil’s Disease Diagnosed?
If an individual has mild case of leptospirosis then it may be difficult to diagnose the condition as the symptoms resemble many other different medical conditions. In cases of Weil’s Disease, it is quite easy to diagnose as the symptoms are specific and immensely severe.
To begin with, the physician will take a detailed history of the patient and inquire as to whether there is any remote history of being involved with cattle or other animals, or ever having being in a farm house. If the patient has a history of any of these then a diagnosis of Weil’s Disease can be suspected.
To confirm the diagnosis, blood tests and urine tests may be performed which will clearly show the presence of leptospira bacterium and confirm the diagnosis of Weil’s Disease. Additionally, advanced radiological studies of the brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs may be done to look for any damage to these organs from Weil’s Disease.
How is Weil’s Disease Treated?
If the condition stays mild and the symptoms are not intensified as is the case with Weil’s Disease then no particular treatment is required. However, in cases of Weil’s Disease aggressive treatment with antibiotics is required to eliminate the bacteria and prevent any further damage to the vital organs of the body.
The patient will be admitted in the hospital where intravenous antibiotics will be administered. The antibiotics of choice for treatment of Weil’s Disease are penicillin and doxycycline. Additional treatments may be required depending on the organs which have been affected by Weil’s Disease and the extent of the damage done to these organs.
If the lungs are affected then the patient may be put on a ventilator until the time the patient is able to breath on his or her own. Dialysis will be required for patients who have their kidneys damaged due to Weil’s Disease.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Leptospirosis: https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html
- Medscape – Leptospirosis https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/220563-overview
- American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) – Genital Herpes: https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/herpes/