2 confirmed, 6 probable leptospirosis cases in Guam

Posted on Jan 07 2021


The Department of Public Health and Social Services in Guam has received reports of two confirmed and six probable leptospirosis cases in late December 2020 and early January 2021.  There were three confirmed and five probable cases from October through November 2020. All 16 cases have been treated with antibiotics.

Leptospirosis is a 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 therefore crucial that people who feel sick with a fever and think they have the disease quickly consult a doctor. Early antibiotic treatment is a major determinant of rapid recovery and prevents most of the severe complications and fatalities. 

Heavy and torrential rainfall caused by tropical cyclones and storms are important triggers of leptospirosis in endemic settings like Guam and other tropical islands. Epidemiological evidence suggests that 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.  Since Guam has had a lot of rain and stormy weather recently, this is the likely reason why the DPHSS is seeing numerous confirmed and probable leptospirosis cases. Historical information shows leptospirosis infection in Guam occurs 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 water or soil because of their job or recreational activities.

For more information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html and https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/resources/ leptospirosis-fact-sheet.html.

To report leptospirosis cases, contact territorial epidemiologist Dr. Ann Pobutsky at (671) 888-9276 or ann.pobutsky@dphss.guam.gov. (PR)

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