How common is leptospirosis in Hawaii?
It’s a question I get often from relatives traveling to the islands from abroad. And the answer is always the same: the bacteria may be common in most mountain or ocean water sources; however, the chances of that bacteria infecting you is not as common.
The infectious, bacterial disease comes from wild animals, such as pigs or mongoose, that might urinate in or near water sources. These sources will most likely travel downstream, into deep-water pools or even into the ocean. Both of which are, more likely than not, frequented by humans. So yes, that beautifully-cascading waterfall after a long and arduous hike could likely be a carrier of the disease.
The general rule has always been, never go into a stream or pool with opened cuts. However, opening your eyes underwater or even gulping some of the water by accident could possibly contract the life-taking virus as well. My best advice would be to appreciate its beauty from afar, especially if the pool of water looks murky and brown (possibly after heavy rains); otherwise, take extra precaution when frequenting those areas.
How do you know if you were infected? You will know. A sudden fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms to start before the infection spreads throughout your body. But do not let it get that far! Call 911 or head to a hospital instead. Unofficially, there are at least a couple reports of leptospirosis every year – most of which are treated immediately. The most recent report on the news left a young man as the victim, to which he says, “This bacteria has no prejudice. They don’t care who you are.”
So remember to be extra careful when exploring Hawaii’s mountains and oceans, and you should not have any problems.