The wet of winter is coming and farmers should be planning annual leptospirosis boosters for herds to protect themselves and animals from contracting the disease, says WorkSafe Programme Manager Agriculture Al McCone.

“Leptospirosis can be passed from animals to humans. Vaccinating animals, controlling rodents, practising good hygiene and using protective equipment, can help protect you, and your family and workers,” says McCone.

“Those at highest risk include farmers, particularly sheep, beef, deer and dairy, their families and anyone living or working on-farm. Human cases of leptospirosis infection have declined in recent decades due to greater awareness and robust vaccination programmes, but people still need to take the precautions as there was a spike in Northland last year,” says McCone.

Leptospirosis is transmitted through infected urine, via cuts or cracks in the skin on bare hands or feet or through mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth; even a fine spray of contaminated urine or contact with urine-contaminated water can cause infection. Simple things such as licking your lips or eating or smoking without first thoroughly washing and drying your face and hands, can result in you becoming infected.

Any warm-blooded mammal can be infected. Protecting feed supplies from rodents is essential. Contaminated rivers and lakes can be sources of infection too. On farms, flood water, and waterlogged paddocks and waterways are a particular risk.

Initial human symptoms may be ‘flu like’. In severe cases, leptospirosis can cause significant issues and permanent complications, such as kidney failure.

Anyone who experiences leptospirosis-type symptoms, or suspects they have been exposed, needs to see a doctor within 24 hours to get tested and start antibiotic treatment. They should tell the doctor leptospirosis may be the cause of their illness.

Mr McCone says it’s also important to make sure farm dogs and other animals which can carry the disease are up to date with vaccines too.

See WorkSafe New Zealand’s good practice guide and factsheets on prevention and control of Leptospirosis at www.worksafe.govt.nz

Media contact details

For more information you can contact our Media Team using our media request form. Alternatively, you can:

Phone: 021 823 007 or

Email: media@worksafe.govt.nz