Leptospirosis Concerns In Island Waters

Taylor Hoppe
Taylor Hoppe
Aki Soukainen
Aki Soukainen

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- During the recent warm spell caused by the Kona winds, many tried to stay cool by taking a dip in local streams or splashing around under a waterfall. There is an unseen danger in the water. The cool rushing water of island streams often look inviting but bacteria in the water can make you really sick.

Taylor Hoppe likes to fish along Judd Trail and admits he doesn't pay much attention to signs warning about leptospirosis.

"Yeah seen signs, just walk on by never hear of anybody getting it," said Hoppe.

After a rigorous hike it's fun to cool off in a fresh water stream. But it could make you very ill.

"Leptosporosis is caused by a bacteria and actually the bacteria leptospira," said State Veterinary Medicine Officer Arlene Buchholz.

Animals are to blame.

"It's carried by animals generally feral pigs livestock dogs can also become infected with the bacteria," said Buccholz.

These visitors from Finland didn't risk a swim.

"We saw some signs telling not to go swimming or drinking and we read about it, we read about it before from internet," said Finish visitor Aki Soukainen.

"It can enter through skin through cuts or through mucus membrane if people are swimming and put their head under water it can enter through the nose, mouth or eyes," said Buchholz.

If you get sick following a swim here's what to look for.

"If people are infected with the bacteria they can develop flu like illness which is leptospirosis, sudden onset of a headache chills fever muscle aches upset stomach," said Buccholz.

The bacteria has been reported in Hawaiian waters since the 1980s.

Health experts believe many cases go unreported with victims thinking they just have a bad case of the flu. If you test positive doctors will prescribe antibiotics.

"If I do ever get sick after swimming or hanging around areas that are contaminated with it I can go to the doctor and tell him I was exposed to it," said Hoppe.

But the visitors from Finland don't want to chance it.

"Because we are on vacation we try to stay healthy," said Soukainen.

We average about 29 cases a year around the state. The Big Island tends to have the highest number of cases for their populations and Kauai is second.