Leptospirosis, commonly known as rat-urine fever, Weil’s disease, field fever or rat catcher’s yellows, is caused by an infection of the Leptospira bacteria. (1) The bacteria can infect many different types of animals and is common in dogs, cats, horse, pigs, and rodents. Unfortunately, human cases are on the rise as the disease is contracted by exposure to water contaminated with urine. If lakes, rivers, and streams are contaminated with the urine of an infected animal, the bacteria can infect humans through exposure to cuts, of soft-mucus membranes or indeed just through swallowing dirty water. Symptoms of Leptospirosis are flu-like if mild, but can lead to jaundice and organ failure for more serious infections. Medical attention should be sought if infected. However, there are several natural home remedies for leptospirosis that are arguably as effective as antibiotics that you can consider.
Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans
People who are most at risk from leptospirosis are those that come into contact with contaminated water and soil. Farm, slaughterhouse workers, and vets are typically at higher risk as are anybody who enjoys outdoor aquatic activities such as canoeing and kayaking. Any exposure to raw sewage or animal waste can raise the risk of leptospirosis infection.
The disease is more prevalent in the developing world due to inadequate water treatment facilities, and the symptoms are often confused with amebiasis for this reason. Aid workers and military personnel are often exposed after natural disasters when water treatment facilities fail or are destroyed completely.
If you have contracted leptospirosis by exposure to contaminated water, the disease has an incubation period of anything up to thirty days. After incubation, the symptoms of leptospirosis in humans develops in two phases.
The first phase is called the septicemia phase which starts quickly lasting about a week. (2) The symptoms of leptospirosis in this phase are quite general and include fever, sore and itchy eyes, headache, chills, diarrhea, and muscle pain. Some patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, a lack of appetite and short-lived rash.
For most patients (around 90%), these are the only symptoms of leptospirosis that they will experience as after three days the symptoms will start to fade, and the body’s temperature will start to fall.
For the remaining 10%, these patients will move onto the second phase of the disease known as the immune phase. This phase is characterized by the development of antibodies for the leptospires bacteria by the body and the excretion of the bacteria in the patient’s urine.
The excretion of the bacteria in the urine is part of the bacteria’s reproductive lifecycle, and as such, this is when the patient is most contagious but can remain contagious for several weeks after infection. Further bouts of muscles pain and fever can be expected in the immune phase of the disease.
To make matters more complicated, leptospirosis comes in two strains and the more virulent strain, icteric leptospirosis, can kill. This strain of the disease is much more serious as the symptoms progress much more rapidly and can lead to multiple organ failures (heart, liver, and kidneys) and as such, it is this strain which sees the highest mortality rates. This form of leptospirosis is more commonly known as Weil’s disease.
Initial symptoms of Weil’s disease include:
- pain in the chest
- meningitis rash and other symptoms
- coughing and shortness of breath
- coughing up blood
- swelling in feet and ankles
However, for most people, the symptoms of leptospirosis are non-specific and mild, and it is often confused with a bout of flu or a stomach virus. However, given that 5-10% of cases are icteric leptospirosis, it can be a very dangerous disease.
Typical treatment involves antibiotics, but given that the disease is prevalent in developing countries, standard medical treatment may be unavailable. It should be noted that antibiotic treatment has had mixed results (3) and indeed, antibiotic efficacy is declining due to increased immunity of bacteria. However, there are natural home remedies for leptospirosis, which have been scientifically studied and tested as effective against the disease and its symptoms (in some cases higher efficacy to penicillin).
1. Glucose and salts
Leptospirosis puts a great strain on multiple organs and in severe cases, is accompanied by jaundice, which is evidence of kidney/renal failure. It is essential that any home remedy for leptospirosis addresses this issue by keeping the body hydrated, detoxified and maintaining the body’s hydro-electrolytic balance, which is seriously disturbed when the kidneys are under strain.
Glucose and salt solution drinks are the first step for leptospirosis treatment. Severe cases of the disease without sufficient glucose and salt replenishment may need dialysis, so make rehydration the first home remedy for leptospirosis that you should try.
2. Tea tree oil
Severe Leptospirosis can cause multiple organ failures because of the body’s autoimmune response. In response to many infections, the body produces substances known as cytokines, and these cytokines cause an inflammatory response in the organs.
It is this inflammation that does the damage to the organ.
Our home remedies for leptospirosis work because they either reduce the body’s production of cytokines, reducing the inflammation, or are antibacterial in nature and kill/suppress the bacteria’s growth.
Tea tree oil is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It is especially effective as a leptospirosis treatment because, in one lab experiment (4), tea tree essential oil was shown to reduce the cytokines (TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-10) which are known to be produced in patients with leptospirosis (5).
Ginger is another great leptospirosis treatment. Studies on rats have shown that ginger extracts again reduce anti-inflammatory cytokines which help reduce the organ damage of leptospirosis. (13)
Ginger is also an excellent antibacterial agent and demonstrates an ability to kill microbes for up to 2 weeks in laboratory experiments. (14)
Try and include as much ginger as possible in your cooking.
4. Avoid iron rich foods
Iron is an essential mineral used in a host of processes in the body. It may seem paradoxical, but reducing your iron intake can help fight the disease. The leptospirosis bacteria itself needs iron to function and grow, and unlike your body, cannot tolerate temporarily low iron levels. The body’s natural immune response to infection is to reduce the amount of iron in the bloodstream, in an attempt to starve the bug of nutrients.
Studies have shown that the leptospirosis bacteria growth rate in a petri dish was restricted when its nutrients were iron deficient. (6).
By temporarily avoiding iron-rich foods such as spinach, meat, eggs, and pulses, you will assist the body’s natural response to the bug and keep the bacterial growth in check.
5. Avoid calcium-rich foods
Calcium is another essential mineral used by the leptospirosis bacteria. Calcium is used by the bacteria to bind and infect the body’s cells, and again it is thought that part of the body’s immune response to the disease is to reduce levels of calcium in the system.
In vitro studies have shown that elevated extracellular calcium levels in the body promote host cell death due to leptospirosis, while calcium is essential for the bacteria to bond and infect host cells. (6)
Avoiding calcium-rich foods such as dairy products while infected with leptospirosis will inhibit the bacteria’s infection rate in the body.
Andrographis is a plant that is indigenous to native to South Asian countries. The leaf and root are used to make medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine has used it for general fever treatment and in particular as a natural home remedy for leptospirosis.
It is known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which makes it ideal for leptospirosis.
There has been considerable clinical research into the treatment of leptospirosis in China. Traditional herbal formulas containing Andrographis extract have been used in clinical studies as well as lab experiments.
Andrographis extract, in the form of an injection or tablets, was reported to effectively treat leptospirosis. In one study, 31 of 35 cases were said to be cured by the Andrographis. (7)
Smilax is a well-known traditional Chinese medicine that is available in tablet/extract form and is used for a host of bacterial infections. It has been used clinically to prevent leptospirosis, to treat syphilis, and acute bacterial dysentery.
The herb has also been shown to reduce fever and swelling, an ideal property in the fight against leptospirosis. There is some interest in using smilax for cancer because it contains chemicals that might keep cancer cells from multiplying, i.e. it shows anti-tumor and anti-atherosclerosis properties. (8)
8. Probiotics and prebiotics
Most people assume that the immune system is regulated by our glands and white blood cells. Yet, it is in our intestines where the real action takes place as this is where more immune cells than the rest of the body combined, reside.
Our gut bacteria help digest food, but it is thought that there is ‘cross-talk’ between the microbes in our gut and other cells in the body responsible for the immune system and metabolism. When there is a gut flora imbalance, this effects our immune system, leaving the body open to pathogens. (9), (10)
So maintaining a healthy gut is essential to assist your body’s natural defenses against leptospirosis. This is best achieved by consuming prebiotics (food for good bacteria) and probiotics (starter kit of good bacteria). However, yogurt and kefir (both probiotics) should be avoided as they have high calcium content.
9. Oregano oil
Oregano oil is rich in carvacrol and thymol. Both of these naturally occurring compounds give oregano oil its medicinal properties. Carvacrol is the compound that gives Oregano its slightly tangy and spicy taste, warming the tongue with pungent aromatics.
It also happens to be quite adept at killing pathogens. Likewise, thymol also has antibacterial properties and the combination of both thymol and carvacrol work by inhibiting unwanted bacteria’s ability to break down healthy cell membranes. (11)
This is the same mechanism by which a calcium deficiency can prevent the spread of the bacteria.
Added to this, oregano oil has been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines, and therefore limit the damage from the spread of leptospirosis through the organs. (12)
Turmeric has similar medicinal properties to ginger, and indeed it is a closely related species is a fantastic home remedy for leptospirosis
Like ginger, it is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce cytokine production and so alleviates tissue damage caused by leptospirosis.The active compound in turmeric is curcumin.
Curcumin has been shown to regulate the protein factor-kappaB which is responsible for cytokine production (13). With fewer cytokines, leptospirosis growth is checked.
Try and add turmeric to as much food as possible.
Home Remedies for Leptospirosis in Dogs
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease meaning that it can pass between species. Dogs are particularly susceptible because they are more likely to ingest contaminated water through their general activities in ponds, puddles, and lakes.
The symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs are similar to humans except, of course, you cannot ask your pet how it feels. So you need to infer the symptoms from your dog’s behavior.
- Stiff muscles and an unusual gait
- High temperature or shivers
- loss of appetite
- irregular breathing and coughing
- runny nose
- vomiting with potentially blood
- Extreme thirst due to dehydration and constant urination
The chances of your dog surviving leptospirosis are good. As with human leptospirosis, most cases will be mild and disappear after a few days. You may not even notice your dog is ill. For more severe cases, as with humans, leptospirosis leads to inflammation of vital organs which can lead to organ failure and death.
Similarly to the human version, antibiotics is the standard treatment for leptospirosis in dogs, and if you suspect your pet is infected, a visit to the vet is the best course of action.
However, if veterinary assistance is not available, our home remedies for leptospirosis in dogs will work as well.
We think the most effective treatments are the Andrographis or Smilax supplements crushed up and mixed with your pet’s food. If these are unavailable, adding tea tree oil or crushed ginger/turmeric to the dog’s food is the next best option.
Make sure that your pet’s water has rehydration electrolyte powder added to maintain glucose and salt levels in its system.
With antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents added to the food, your dog should make a full recovery, but be aware, his/her urine will remain contagious for several weeks, so ensure your dog does his business in a safe place away from running water.
Do’s and Don’ts of Leptospirosis
- Try and maintain a healthy diet with the minimum of iron or calcium-rich foods. This will mean avoiding meat and dairy while you are ill.
- Consume as much pro and prebiotics as possible (except yogurt and kefir) to maintain a healthy gut balance and immune system
- Avoid processed foods and try to eat organic foods
- Keep hydrated with glucose and essential salt supplements
- Don’t drink alcohol as it will inhibit the anti-bacterial effects of the remedies
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and preservatives as it causes a gut imbalance
- Don’t share baths with an infected individual as water is the primary means of transmission
- Avoid sex with an infected person as contagion can occur
- If infected, do not urinate outside, especially in streams and lakes etc