SWIMMING, LEPTOSPIROSIS, AND ME, BY STANLEY ULIJASZEK

Updated: Oct 15

If you are an outdoor or open water swimmer you probably don’t want to know too much about leptospirosis, or its more extreme form, Weil’s disease. You may feel you already know enough about it. You certainly don’t want to be too close to it - but how would you know when you are? I contracted the disease in August and was hospitalized during intense fever and body chills. I have written up my account of my treatment-seeking experience as my condition worsened, into sepsis and out again, with the expertise and integrated hard work of the medical staff of the University of Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital. Heroes all.


The clinical descriptions of the disease do not do justice to the metabolic and physiological roller-coaster that I experienced, something I exaggeratedly call a fire-bombing. I only know one other swimmer who for sure has had leptospirosis, and sure, it is a rare disease to catch. But if you are the chosen one… This is a truly vile disease. This account, real and hallucinatory, takes you to what I have called 'a night at the opera', a drama that heightened quickly, peaked and then dissipated, ending well. But not all opera ends well, and you don't know how it will go when you are in the thick of the plot. In the final act, in the day clinic after discharge from hospital, I look at the epidemiology of the disease and offer some thoughts about risk and infection associated with open water swimming.


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