Summer swimming warnings about Weil’s disease

wild swimmingAs warm weather approaches, swimmers and rowers are being warned to take precautions before they enter local rivers to avoid being infected.

Last summer, Prince William School reported that one of their pupils who regularly swam in “The Bowl” was suspected of having contracted Weil’s disease. The Bowl is an area of the River Nene located across the fields from Riverside Close.

While outdoor swimming has its obvious dangers, some of the most severe lie in the unseen bacteria – Leptospira, which can lead to Leptospirosis, otherwise known in its severe form as Weil’s disease.

The infection is caught through contact with infected animal urine, mainly from rodents, cattle or pigs, generally in contaminated water. It typically enters the body through cuts or scrapes, or the lining of the nose, mouth, throat or eyes. Only a very few patients experience the severe, life-threatening illness known as Weil’s disease, thought to kill two or three people a year in Britain.

In most cases of leptospirosis, symptoms will be relatively mild, and may include: fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, cough, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. In extreme cases, symptoms can include; yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), swollen ankles, chest pain, shortness of breath and coughing up blood.

If you know you may come into contact with untreated water such as flood waters, canals, ponds and rivers you can reduce the risk of infection by covering any open wounds such as cuts and scratches with waterproof plasters, wash thoroughly and as soon as possible after leaving the water.

Weil’s disease is only one of a number of water borne diseases found along the River Nene and the River Cam; Cryptosporidiosis, Escherichia coli and swimmer’s ear are other infections and parasites that can have deadly side effects.

Tom Pilsbury
May 2019