Holiday-makers are being warned not to swim in lakes and rivers particularly in areas affected by flooding as the waters may be polluted by rat urine – a known source of the bacterial infection Leptospirosis.
The warning follows the case of junior team tennis player Gabriella Taylor who had to pull out of the Wimbledon international tournament early last month after developing the symptoms of the potentially fatal disease.
The infection has an incubation period of up to a month. According to data provided by the International Tennis Federation Miss Taylor, 18, had , at the end of May, played in a tournament in Namangan in Uzbekistan in Central Asia. It is an area increasing affected by flooding due to an expansion of irrigation in cotton plantations.
Before Wimbledon she could also have been at her training base in Marbella on the Costa del Sol in the south of Spain – an area which is affected by flash floods which environmentalists are blaming on climate change.
Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Leptospirosis used to be regarded solely as an occupational disease in Britain with workers in farming, fishing and construction being particularly at risk.
‘But now it is more a recreational disease. More people – and particularly young people – are travelling abroad in far flung areas and swimming out with the confines of luxury hotels. You are at risk of being affected if you swim in waters polluted with rat urine. And this is more likely to be found out in the wild and in areas affected with floods.”
Scotland Yard is currently investigating a complaint made by Miss Taylor’s mother that her daughter had been deliberately poisoned. Disease experts have, however, dismissed this as an unlikely mode of transmission of the bacteria.
In the past five years around three cases a year have been detected in Scotland. In 50 per cent of these cases sufferers caught the infection abroad.
The infection can enter the body through the skin.
Dr Dominic Mellor of Health Protection Scotland “The hazard has been reduced in the UK amongst occupational workers because of the use of protective clothing. But travellers need to be aware that the bacteria does thrive in wet environments.”