Weil’s Disease and Other Waterborne Diseases to Be Aware Of

rat spreading weil's disease

Waterborne diseases are a concern for all paddlers, and having a good understanding of them is crucial. This knowledge not only allows us to know when it's safe to paddle but also enables us to take the necessary precautions for our well-being after paddling. While these diseases are not new, they should not deter us from enjoying the water. Instead, armed with knowledge and safety practices, we can indulge in our love for paddling with confidence and peace of mind.

Understanding Waterborne Diseases

Waterborne diseases are illnesses caused by viruses or infections that can be contracted by humans. In the context of paddlesport, these diseases are often acquired while in the water through cuts or ingestion (accidentally drinking the water), or even while on the bank when coming into contact with the river's edges.

Key Waterborne Diseases Every Paddler Should Know

As paddlers, it's essential to be aware of the following common waterborne diseases:

1. Weil's Disease (Leptospirosis)

Weil's disease, also known as Leptospirosis, is contracted by coming into contact with infected animal urine, particularly from rodents, cattle, or pigs. The bacteria responsible for this disease can enter the body through cuts or abrasions on the skin or the linings of the nose, mouth, throat, or eyes.

The symptoms are similar to those of flu and can manifest anytime within three weeks after paddling. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to inform your doctor about your recent paddling activities.

2. Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria)

Found in slow-moving or still waters like lakes, canals, or sluggish rivers, blue-green algae often gives the water a blue-green appearance. However, it can appear in various colours. Warm and settled weather conditions, typically in mid to late summer, encourage its growth.

While blue-green algae can be fatal to animals, it poses serious but non-fatal risks to humans. Symptoms include eye irritation, dermatitis, joint/muscle pain, and, in severe cases, gastro-enteritis, pneumonia, liver damage, and certain neurological conditions.

If you suspect paddling in infected water and develop any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Many locations have signs warning of blue-green algae presence; be sure to check for them before paddling.

3. Gastro-Intestinal Illness

This disease can be contracted from paddling in any inland waterway, especially after heavy rainfall when sewage may be discharged into rivers and seas. Watch out for paddling in floodwaters or areas near floods.

Symptoms of gastro-intestinal illness include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. Most people recover fully with proper hydration and clean water to flush out the system.

If symptoms worsen or if you have a weakened immune system or other risk factors, contact your doctor and explain your situation.

4. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is more likely to be contracted when paddling in floodwaters or after heavy rainfall, as it is usually found in rivers contaminated with raw sewage.

Symptoms may arise abruptly and include fever, jaundice, and abdominal discomfort. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor and provide details of your recent paddling activities.

Ensuring Paddler Safety

Now that we've covered these waterborne diseases, let's focus on keeping ourselves and others safe during paddling. While these diseases have existed for centuries, an increase in poor water quality and the growing popularity of paddlesports necessitates heightened awareness and precautions.

Here are some simple yet effective ways to safeguard your well-being:

  1. Never Drink Water from a River or Lake: Avoid swallowing contaminated water. If you accidentally do, inform your doctor about the incident.

  2. Drink from Your Own Water Bottle: Only consume water from your personal water bottle to prevent any potential contamination.

  3. Shower After Water Contact: Always shower after being in contact with the water to wash away any harmful substances.

  4. Thoroughly Wash Hands Before Eating or Drinking: Prioritize good hand hygiene to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria.

  5. Cover Cuts and Abrasions with Waterproof Dressings: Protect any open wounds from potential contamination.

  6. Wear Suitable Footwear: Use appropriate footwear, especially when entering or leaving the water, to prevent direct contact and protect your feet from cuts and abrasions.

  7. Avoid Immersion in Algal-Infested Water: Steer clear of water with algal scum or bloom and refrain from splashing river or lake water onto your face or body.

  8. Use Clean Water to Wash Equipment: After paddling, clean all equipment with clean water to remove any potential contamination.

  9. Thoroughly Dry Contaminated Clothing: If clothing comes into contact with infected water, wash and dry it thoroughly before reuse.

  10. Maintain Immunization Regime: Stay up to date with immunizations against Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Typhoid, and Dysentery, particularly when paddling in foreign locations.

By following these straightforward guidelines, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable paddling experience. Educating yourself about waterborne diseases, recognizing their symptoms, and practicing proper hygiene will empower you to explore the waters with confidence and peace of mind.

Always remember, safety first, and happy paddling!