Why should you be concerned about weil’s disease if you keep outdoor poultry or livestock? Chances are at some point you are likely to be feeding a whole host of rats. Not only will this hurt your pocket, with feed prices being sky high, but there are possible health risks to you and your family too.
What is Weil’s Disease (leptospirosis)?
Rats (and any other mammal for that matter) can carry a bacteria that they excrete through their urine called Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can cause a whole host of symptoms in humans that can make you feel rotten, but most worryingly in extremely rare cases, this infection can become Weil’s disease, which can be fatal.
Rats have no bladder control. They urinate constantly, dribbling as they go so to speak. Every surface they touch or walk over can become contaminated with their urine, and if infected, Leptospira. The bacteria is only active whilst wet. Within a short time of the bacteria drying, the bacteria dies. However, this means that in areas where the bacteria is present with moisture (around duck ponds or chicken waterers for example) it can be active for months.
How common is weil’s disease in the UK?
Weil’s disease is rare in the UK. However, the risks are higher for those who take part in lots of outdoor activities and for those of us who keep chickens (poultry generally) and/or livestock as well as those working with animals.
In a study of rats tested on English farms in 1995, 14% of rats carried Leptospira. However, my local council claims that up to 50% of rats carry leptospira.
Weil’s disease symptoms
Initial weil’s disease symptoms can take up to a month after infection to show up. Mild cases of weil’s disease can (but don’t always) include the following symptoms; Headaches, red eyes, muscle pain, fatigue, skin rash, behavioural changes, nausea and a high temperature.
These symptoms can last from 3 to 5 days. After this stage, patients will start improving and most will continue to make a full recovery.
In some cases after this initial reprieve, the symptoms will return alongside more serious symptoms such as; chest & abdominal pain, renal problems, psychological changes, neck stiffness and vomiting. With treatment, most patients make a full recovery.
However, in patients with poor health or those subjected to a very high dose of the bacteria, the initial symptoms are much quicker and stronger and without medical treatment there is a real possibility of jaundice, internal bleeding and multiple organ failure, leading to death.
How can I prevent catching leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can enter the human body through several routes including cuts, grazes, mouth and eyes.
What can you do to prevent catching weil’s disease when you keep livestock?
- Cover any wounds, grazes or sores with plasters before going out to check on or feed your animals
- Wash your hands with hot soapy water as soon you get back in or keep a tub of anti-bacterial hand gel in the chicken coop
- Don’t touch your mouth or face before washing your hands
- If you are cleaning a coop or run with a hose or pressure washer, wear a face mask and goggles
- If you get scratched by a chicken or duck claw, stop what you’re doing and drench the wound in a disinfectant solution
Prevention is better than cure:
How to prevent rats when you keep poultry or livestock
To help prevent rats when you keep poultry or livestock you should always:
- Keep animal feed in rat proof bins
- Clear up any spilt food before shutting animals up for the night and remove feed hoppers
- At the first signs of rats, call in a professional vermin control service to wipe them out swiftly.
- Have a vermin plan. Whether you choose to use poison, dogs or trapping, you need a plan and you need to stick to it, especially in autumn/winter when rats are moving indoors. I choose to use poison, although Jonny hates that I do.
Bad placement of rat poison can be responsible for the death of cats, dogs, poultry and wild birds, and bad management can cause rats to become immune to the effect of poison, creating huge problems in the future. If you don’t know what you are doing, please call in the experts.
This isn’t something to freak out about, as it is incredibly rare. In all my years of living on a farm, I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick from Leptospirosis or Weil’s disease.
Just please, be aware of the causes and symptoms and have your family take sensible, hygienic precautions when around your livestock.
Tammy/Our Neck of the Woods says
Yikes! That’s scary! We see mice occasionally out where we store our chicken feed, but it’s pretty rare because we have a couple of outdoor cats running around :)
Good tips on how to prevent it. I always wash my hands after coming in from the coop. Some days I swear I wash my hands 20 times! But it’s worth it to be safe. I just use extra lotion :)
It is scary Tammy, when I first started researching it I totally freaked out! However, when put into perspective (ie not knowing nayone that had ever got sick from it) I calmed down a little! However, if you have children it’s a no brainer really x
PS mice can carry it too x
Julie Harley says
I really enjoyed reading the blog. It is so informative that some information i have only learned in this blog. Anyway, I have read of so many cases of Leptospirosis during floods or in flood-prone areas. This is where rats are most abundant and the bacteria for Leptospirosis is most active because it is moist.
Yep Julie, there was a case of an Olympic rower in the UK who died after catching it whilst out on the waterways. Scary stuff huh.
Thanks for popping by, great to meet you!
Can the Chicken’s eggs be contaminated from any of the diseases mice may carry? Or will cooking the eggs automatically kill off any harm that may be inside the egg? My chickens are all healthy, but I wasn’t sure if any of the diseases from mice might lay dormant in their system but get passed onto the egg itself. Also, we use poison blocks that the chickens can’t get to, but mice can. IF my chickens were to ever eat a mouse that had died from the poison (bromathiamine? It’s the poison block that starts with a B) would that effect the eggs at all? Thank You for your time :)
Jane Sarchet says
I’m afraid your questions are way above my level of knowledge Lindsay. You would probably be better talking to a vet or emailing the producer of the poison for a detailed answer. If you do find out any more I would love to know what you discovered :)
Don Henderson says
Before moving to our homestead in Spain my wife and I used to live on narrowboats in the Midlands and of course saw many,many rats and never really thought too much about it. After a couple of years on the ‘cut’ we met a woman who became a good friend and she told us about her first husband who introduced her to life on the canal. At one stage they worked at a marina and had the opportunity to have a place to moor where they could keep chickens. It wasnt long before her husband started to come down with the same symptoms that you described went to A and E and was fairly quickly dismissed with ‘flu medicine , things got a bit better, then a few weeks later the illness returned. This time a trip to the local GP didn’t come up with much and two days later he died ! So it is a very real problem and our friend admitted later that if on either time they had said that they lived on a canal and that rats are always present then maybe things could have been caught at source.. I am sorry if that was a bit depressing but I do try to tell that story as much as possible because some dangers are not always glaringly obvious. and yet with disclosing the right information could be easily preventable. Be safe Don
Jane Sarchet says
Don, thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about your friends husband. So, so sad but a very real warning to us all.
Mary kalinowski says
Not just rats. A racoon had lepto killed both of my dogs . My husband contracted it from the dogs licking him. My husband was sick for over a month but did recover. This diease is no joke
Jane Sarchet says
Yikes. Glad to hear he recovered Mary, but that must have been very scary.