Weil Disease, Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis has two clinically defined syndromes. The first, known as anicteric leptospirosis (anicteric refers to an absence of icterus or jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes that can result from liver disease), is much like influenza, with fever, headache, vomiting and muscle pain. The second, known as Weil's syndrome, can be deadly because the parasite compromises liver and kidney functions and increases the risk of internal bleeding.4

Weil Disease is a severe form of leptospirosis, usually caused by Leptospira interrogans bacteria and some other serotypes. It is transmitted to humans by the rat and is characterized by hemorrhagic and renal symptoms with accompanying jaundice.

The most important serotypes are L. hardjo associated with cattle and horses, L. icterohaemorrhagia, found in rodents and dogs (specifically the organism responsible for Weil's disease), L. canicola in dogs and L. pomona in pigs and cattle.3

Living Leptospira are continually excreted in the urine of rats and survive for months in pools, canals, flood water and damp soil. The patient is infected by contaminated water or by direct occupational contact with rats. Those affected include agricultural and sewer workers and fish cutters. Deteriorating cities in Europe and Asia, where rat populations are expanding, provide a source of infection.1

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Symptoms and Signs of Weil Disease (Leptospirosis)

Symptoms range from mild, flu-like illness characterized by rapid rise of fever with intense headache, malaise, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain and severe muscle pain which progress to Weil Syndrome characterized by renal and hepatic dysfunction, mental changes and cardiovascular collapse. Death is usually due to hepatic failure, renal failure and shock after 2-3 weeks.2 Other organs that may be severely affected by Leptospira include lungs and pancreas.


  1. Diseases of the liver and biliary system. Sheila Sherlock, Sheila Sherlock (Dame.), James Dooley
  2. Tropical pathology. T. G. Ashworth
  3. Zoonoses. Martin Shakespeare
  4. Sustaining life: how human health depends on biodiversity By Eric Chivian, Aaron Bernstein

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