Beware The Rat! 10 Tips To Avoid Weil’s Disease Whilst Fishing

This really is invaluable advice for any carp angler, big thanks to Jamie Simpson for these tips on how to avoid Weil’s Disease whilst fishing…

Ever heard of a disease called – Leptospirosis? No? … didn’t think so! How about Weil’s disease?

Leptospira interrogans are a microscopic corkscrew-shaped bacterium which causes the disease leptospirosis. This is carried in the urine of rodents and transmitted to lakes, rivers, canals, and soft damp ground during the act of urination. Humans can then contract this through open cuts, sores, eyes, or through swallowing contaminated water. Leptospirosis is often referred to as Weils disease in the case of contaminated humans.

What has this got to do with carp angling? EVERYTHING!

Every time we go fishing we are potentially exposing ourselves to Weil’s disease. We all mix our Method mixes with lake water and we all wash our hands in the margins. Anything from a broken blister created after sticking bait out, to a cut from casting or knot-tying can leave us exposed to possible infection and just because you can’t see any evidence of rats – it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Remember, rats are largely a nocturnal animal. Leaving cans and bottles of beer in your landing net to keep cool might seem the right thing to do in the hot summer days, but this is a sure-fire way of risking exposure. Just rubbing your shirt around the top of the can or bottle will not kill off the bacteria. Leaving your kettle and pans outside your bivvy door is not safe either. Rats are incontinent therefore they will urinate on the move, so anything they come into contact with could become contaminated.

What Are The Chances Of Catching It?

It is estimated that between 50-60 % of rats carry the bacteria. It’s not just rats – mice, voles, coypus, foxes, etc., all have the potential to transmit the disease. Rats are definitely becoming more and more of a problem on many fisheries, partly due to anglers leaving rubbish behind, but more due to anglers’ bait.

How many of us spod seeds and pellets?

How much of this lands on the bank or in the margin? We are all guilty of doing this and it isn’t the rat’s fault, it is only doing what comes natural. Wild rats only have a lifespan of around one year so you wouldn’t think they would be too much of a problem, but considering each female rat gives birth to six young around four times a year, and the young themselves reach sexual maturity after three months, you can soon have a real problem on your hands. If only half the offspring are female, after one year you could have around 512 rats from one mating pair. Scary isn’t it?

Am I as guilty as everyone else? YES.

With the massive increase in carp angling over the last 15 years and with more anglers on the bank each week, more bait and rubbish is being left around the edges of lakes and rivers. It is, however, extremely difficult to tidy up spod spill as the seeds are so tiny and the bait spreads all over the place.

How To Tell If You Have Caught The Disease

The disease normally carries an incubation period of between four and 14 days, depending on how susceptible you may be. The first signs are often flu-like symptoms, headaches, nausea, fever, chills, vomiting, loss of appetite, eye inflammation and muscle aches. If you suspect you may have the disease contact your doctor immediately, stating that you are an angler and feel you may have contracted Weil’s disease. Most doctors will be unaware of the illness as it is quite rare, so spell it out very clearly or they may only treat you for a fever. If not treated quickly the effects of Weil’s disease can be very serious – liver damage, jaundice, kidney failure and internal bleeding. In extreme cases this can even result in death. After a course of antibiotics, in most cases a full recovery will occur, however, there can still be long-term after-effects from the disease in some individual cases. These include headaches, fatigue, eye pain and depression.These effects can last for several years after the original illness on an intermittent basis. It is also possible to contract the illness again as there are many strains of the disease and your immune system will not protect you from another variant of the disease.

How Can We Minimise/Remove The Risk Of Infection?

It would be extremely difficult to completely remove the risk of infection, but hopefully the following suggestions can help reduce it.

1. Firstly, if you have any cuts or open sores, cover them with waterproof plasters.

2. Don’t leave anything outside your bivvy where rats may be able to get to it, especially at night. It has even been known for rats to climb trees to get at bags of bait that are being airdried in the branches.

3. You can minimise the risk of cuts from casting by wearing a fingerstall or glove and likewise can wear a glove for baiting up with a throwing stick.

4. Ensure lids are securely fastened on any buckets of bait.

5. Any empty food packaging should be bagged and taken home after the session.

6. Always wash dirty pots with bottled water and sterilise by boiling the water in pans before using them

7. Don’t swim in lakes, rivers and canals as any swallowed water could contain the bacteria

8. Always wear footwear as a cut on unprotected feet could cause infection

9. Don’t put wet reel line in your mouth when tying rigs.

Most of the aforementioned seems like common sense, but, if we are honest, how many of us actually do them?


8 thoughts on “Beware The Rat! 10 Tips To Avoid Weil’s Disease Whilst Fishing

  1. David says:

    God grief Jamie – thats really enlightening, if not slightly terrifying! I’ve broken your 10 suggestions more times than I care to think, particularly
    “Don’t put wet reel line in your mouth when tying rigs.”

    Thanks – I’ll deffo be more careful in the future.

  2. mally rimmer says:

    Thank you for tacking the time to do the article on the weils disease,you may save lives with the advice.I am in France 12 weeks a year running trips and have never given it a thought either for myself or others but I will pass on your comments and advice before we leave for the port in future, once again thank you. Mally

  3. Gareth says:

    Hi Mally, Thank you for your comments. This article was written by a friend of mine after he actually contracted the nasty disease. I now know 2 carpers who have had it and one nearly died. Forewarned is forearmed. Tight Lines

  4. A wright says:

    Been France since 90s but this year 2016 caught Weils from French venue that pumped lake water into kitchen and shower, off work 16 weeks 9 days in hospital not nice, make sure your tell doctor if you become ill

  5. Alec says:

    As somebody who almost died from weils disease a few years ago, I can highly suggest being extra careful! Most people don’t realise there is a stage 1 and 2, a lot of people have stage 1 and never realise because your body can normally fight it off, it’s stage 2 that is dangerous. It floored me entirely, some time in the ICU and about a year to get back to normal health afterwards. The most scarey thing is the test to see if you have it takes a long time to get the results. By the time you get a positive result to the test you are already likely to be dead.

    If you are sombody who spends time around water, and natural habitats for rats you should be fully aware of the risks, take precautions and know what signs to look for. It can be treated very easily if you know what to watch out for and catch it early enough!

    back to fishing,…..! 😀

  6. David M Bunn says:

    As a bailiff at Woodland Waters I would also advise the frequent use of hand sanitiser when fishing, or working near open water, I would never be without it ! !

  7. Thanks Alec, very sound advice.

  8. Agree, essential bit of kit!

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