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Health officials confirm cases of leptospirosis on Guam

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

By Pacific Island Times News Staff The Department of Public Health and Social Services has reported three confirmed cases of leptospirosis on Guam, one in late July and two in August, and one suspected case pending lab results. Leptospirosis is a bacterial, zoonotic infection, which may be fatal, that is transmitted from animals to humans by infected urine through the environment. Infection can occur through breaks in the skin or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.

The wide range of leptospirosis symptoms (high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea and rash) and their poor specificity can be mistaken for other diseases (i.e. dengue fever or influenza). Without treatment, the disease can lead to serious complications (e.g. kidney and liver failure) and even death. It is crucial for people who feel sick with a fever to quickly consult a doctor. Early antibiotic treatment is a major determinant of rapid recovery and prevents most of the severe complications and fatalities. Epidemiological evidence suggests the contamination occurs at the time of heavy rain, flooding events or very shortly after, thus leptospirosis cases will seek medical care one to three weeks after storms. With Guam recently seeing heavy rain and storm-like weather, this is a likely reason why the DPHSS is seeing these new leptospirosis cases.

Historically, leptospirosis infections on Guam occur mainly in people who have been hiking and/or swimming in streams and rivers in the southern part of the island. “The risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by not swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated with animal urine, or eliminating contact with potentially infected animals. Protective clothing or footwear should be worn by those exposed to contaminated soil or water,” said Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Ann Pobutsky.


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