Farmers reminded to protect themselves from leptospirosis

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Photo: SafetyCulture Library

In New Zealand, farmers are being urged to take extra precaution when working around animals following a spike in cases of leptospirosis in Northland. They are also urged to vaccinate their livestock.

Seven confirmed cases have been reported to WorkSafe New Zealand so far this year with another one under investigation as a suspected infection.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, which can cause flu-like symptoms including headaches, muscle pains, and fevers. In severe cases, it can cause bleeding from the lungs, meningitis or kidney failure.

“Leptospirosis is a particular risk to people working in close contact with animals or animal products, especially in wet environments,” said WorkSafe Agriculture Programme Manager, Al McCone.

“Farmers should vaccinate their animals, control rodents, practice good personal hygiene, use protective equipment, and get help early if they feel unwell. As initial symptoms are very similar to flu, if you feel unwell and go to see your health professional, it will pay to check for leptospirosis.”

Mr. McCone said it is important to have a robust animal vaccination programme to break the cycle of infection. Infection can happen through breaks in the skin or through mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. Dogs can get leptospirosis and may spread the infection to humans and should, therefore, be vaccinated.

“You don’t have to come into direct contact with urine or infected tissue of an infected animal,” said Mr. McCone. “Even a splash or fine spray of urine, or indirect contact with urine-contaminated water, such as water used to clean down a cowshed or stockyard, can spread the disease.”

Even contaminated rivers and lakes may become a source of infection.

“The use of urine-contaminated animal manure when gardening is another potential source. In New Zealand farming systems, flood water, and water-logged paddocks and waterways, are a particular risk,” said Mr. McCone.

Farmers and their workers who get leptospirosis while working should notify WorkSafe as it is considered a notifiable illness.

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