Visiting Hawaii? Don't swim in fresh water with an open cut

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HONOLULU (KHON) – Are you visiting Hawaii this summer? If you are, you may want to be careful when you go swimming.

Health officials are warning about leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that impacts humans and animals in Hawaii and other warm-climate areas throughout the world.

You can get leptospirosis by swimming or wading in freshwater puddles, ponds or streams contaminated with animal urine or by coming into contact with wet soil or plants contaminated with animal urine. After a hurricane or heavy rain, floodwaters may be contaminated as well.

The bacteria will enter the body through broken skin or through the soft tissues of the inside of the mouth, nose or eyes. Leptospirosis is not spread from person to person, the Hawaii Department of Health explains.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, sweating, vomiting, and pain behind the eyes. These symptoms may last from a few days to several weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although most cases are mild, some can be severe, causing acute liver and kidney failure.

While hiking to waterfalls in Hawaii, for example, you may notice signs warning people about this disease. 

According to Hawaii Department of Health, between 100 and 200 cases of Leptospirosis are identified annually in the United States, with approximately 50% of these cases occurring in Hawaii. 

If you have symptoms of leptospirosis and were exposed to infected water, it’s best to call your healthcare provider and ask for a blood test to determine if you have been infected. Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, the CDC says.

If your pet begins experiencing symptoms — fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusing to eat, weakness and depression, stiffness, muscle pain, or inability to have puppies — after a possible exposure, the CDC encourages taking the animal to a veterinarian. As it is in humans, leptospirosis in animals can be treated with antibiotics if caught early.

You can avoid getting leptospirosis by staying out of fresh water, ponds or streams in Hawaii, especially if they have leptospirosis signs nearby, or when you have an open cut or sores. Hawaii’s Department of Health says swimming with your head underwater may also increase your risk of infection via your eyes, nose or mouth.

You should also avoid drinking pond or stream water that hasn’t first been boiled or chemically treated.

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