Outbreak of rat-borne disease leptospirosis in Royal Canal

Waterways Ireland says people should not swim or dive in canal until further notice

The HSE notified Waterways Ireland of “a number of cases” of leptospirosis following exposure to the water in the Dublin section of the Royal Canal. Photograph: Alan Betson

The HSE notified Waterways Ireland of “a number of cases” of leptospirosis following exposure to the water in the Dublin section of the Royal Canal. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Waterways Ireland has warned the public to stay out of the Royal Canal in north Dublin following an outbreak of the rat-borne infection leptospirosis, which can be fatal.

The bacterial infection, which can cause Weil’s disease, can be carried by domestic and wild animals but in Ireland it is most commonly caught from rats, through direct contact with the rodents or their urine.

In mild cases patients can suffer from flu-like symptoms, such as headache, chills and muscle pain. However, severe cases can result in organ failure and internal bleeding, which can be “life-threatening” the Health Service Executive (HSE) says.

The HSE notified Waterways Ireland of “a number of cases” of leptospirosis following exposure to the water in the Dublin section of the Royal Canal.

“Individuals are instructed not to engage in swimming, diving or immersive activity such as deliberate capsizing in the Royal Canal in north Dublin, pending further advisory,” Waterways Ireland said.

Water-based activities

Companies involved in water-based activities on the canal have also been asked to ensure their clients do not enter the water. The notice applies to the area of the canal between Clonsilla and Spencer Dock.

“Persons with symptoms (a flu-like illness) within a three-week period after engaging in a water-based activity should seek medical attention immediately, mentioning any watercourse exposure,” Waterways Ireland said.

While most animals which have contracted leptospirosis have no symptoms, up to one in 10 infected dogs die from the disease. Dog owners are advised to rinse their animals in clean water to reduce the risk of infection if they have been swimming in the canal.

Leptospirosis is most common in tropical areas of the world. However, it is becoming increasingly widespread in urban areas that have low levels of sanitation. It is rare in Ireland with fewer than 20 cases reported most years.

Transmission through sex is possible, but very rare, according to the HSE.