Health Care

Leptospirosis kills one and strikes two others in NY

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People can become infected with Leptospira bacteria when they come into contact with the urine of infected animals, or with an environment that's been contaminated with urine from infected animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is extremely rare and New York City generally sees just one to three cases per year, a department of health spokeswoman told Patch.

There are three cases of a bacterial infection caused by rat urine, one of them fatal, in the Bronx according to New York City officials. The CDC says that without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress and death.

The New York Times reported that 26 cases of leptospirosis were reported in New York City from 2006 to 2016.

"This illness can be serious but is treatable with readily available antibiotics", health officials said in a statement.

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Two patients in the Bronx cluster were diagnosed in December, and one in February. According to the CDC, only about 100 to 200 leptospirosis cases are reported each year in the United States. The two survivors are now out of the hospital. Some people who are infected may not develop symptoms, while others may have a mild illness with fever, headache chills, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhea.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president, called for calm in the wake of the news. "I think that what we need to do now is educate the public on exactly what it is that leptospirosis is".

"This is, ladies and gentlemen, an issue that's a quality-of-life issue, it's a health issue", he said.

The best way to prevent falling victim to leptospirosis is to avoid coming in contact with rats and places where rats likely urinate, officials said, and people are being encouraged to keep their hands cleaned. They also recommend washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with areas where rats may live.