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Leptospira Strikes NYC: Here's What You Should Know

leptospirosis, leptospira, hygiene, rats, nyc

A disease associated with impoverished nations has struck the richest city in the U.S. and claimed the lives of one Bronx resident and left two extremely ill.


Leptospira is a kind of bacteria naturally found in stagnant water, like dirty puddles, shallow lakes, and bogs. If these bacteria infect your body, you could develop leptospirosis, which is very rare in the U.S.. In fact, there were less than 40 cases reported in America in 2015. Most of these cases are people who love water sports, like lake swimmers, divers, and rafters, because the risk of the bacteria entering your body through the mouth, nose, eyes, and breaks in the skin is higher the longer you stay in the water.

The symptoms of leptospirosis are:

  • Recurring headaches of varying intensity
  • Bleeding lungs
  • Muscle pains
  • Fever

In severe cases, leptospirosis can cause kidney failure and severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome.

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This disease is indeed scary, but with such few cases in the U.S., should you worry? If you live in New York City, that answer is yes. Ironically, one of the richest cities in America is experiencing an outbreak of this serious ailment. Why? Rats.

Rats are one of the largest carriers of leptospira, and they're apparently running unchecked in the Grand Concourse neighborhood located in the Bronx. Apparently, landlords and the local sanitation services are doing shoddy jobs at keeping the rentals up to sanitation standards. One resident has died of leptospirosis and two others are seriously ill.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the commissioner of NYC's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, tried to quell public panic and disambiguity by saying the disease is rare and only affecting this particular Bronx neighborhood. She's also overseeing the increased sanitation and extermination efforts in the neighborhood, including faster garbage removal and sweep rat exterminations.

If you're unfortunate enough to live in or close to these rat-infested neighborhoods, there are ways you can completely avoid getting infected:

  • Wash your hands before eating or touching your mouth, eyes, and nose.
  • Don't leave food out unless it's sealed. Never leave open food unattended before you eat it.
  • Change your bedsheets regularly and clean your home regularly.
  • Pay attention to any wounds you have and keep them bandaged so you can help prevent them from coming into contact with leptospira.

Don't get infected by this rare disease – keep your hygiene up at all times!