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Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) and stand up paddle boarding inland waterways.

There’s much chat about SUP safety with so many new paddlers coming into the sport. Things like leashes (and what type to wear), weather info and so on are certainly key aspects that need covering/reiterating. One thing that may get overlooked, however, is the following – particularly for paddlers on stretches of inland water. While we’re not trying to be alarmist Weil’s Disease is something to be aware of.

As we all know stand up paddle boarding can (mostly) be practised on any given stretch of water you come across – access allowing. Whilst tidal waters are one thing, as far as SUP safety concerns go, inland locations, such as rivers, canals and lakes have their own set of safety criteria to keep in mind. Something new stand up paddlers might not have considered is Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) and the fact you can pick it from these non-coastal locations.

What is it and how does Weil’s disease transmit?

Weil’s Disease is a bacterial infection that can be fatal if untreated. It’s spread by rat urine but can also transmit via cat, fox rabbit, cow and pig urine. If the stretch of water you plan on paddling is next to a cow field, for instance, then there’ll most likely be run off which can carry the bacteria.

Open wounds, such as cuts and gashes, are prime for the disease entering a paddler’s body. Contaminated water, that’s ingested, can also be a route to infection as can nasal passages and eyes. Symptoms include lethargy, muscle pain, diarrhoea, headaches and vomiting – Weil’s Disease can mimic severe flu. The consequences of becoming infected can be serious.

Whilst river/lake/canal water are places stand up paddlers could pick up Leptospirosis infections a little known fact is that river banks, for instance, are also contamination zones. Shuffling and crawling across bankside undergrowth and shrubbery to launch also risks pick up the infection.

It should also be noted that infection rates following rainfall can be higher as the Leptospira bacteria thrives in moisture.

Preventing Weil’s Disease

It should go without saying that any open wounds or cuts should be covered with watertight bandages. In fact, it might be worth holding off paddling altogether until any abrasions or scrapes have healed. Taking a dunking is par for the course with SUP – we all fall from time to time. Keeping mouths and eyes closed if immersed is good practise.

SUP apparel isn’t just for keeping warm and fending off chill. Wearing protective clothing, such as neoprene wetsuits, boots and gloves can block potential infections as well. In hotter weather thinner garments can be purchased so overheating doesn’t also become a problem.

Having anti-bac onsite for post-paddle rub downs is worth it. Then as soon as you can washing hands and face with warm soapy water should be done. Clean down all your gear, including paddle clothing, to get rid of bacteria.

If the area you plan on stand up paddle boarding is known to have problems with Weil’s Disease then avoiding it completely is a good idea. Should you feel unwell after SUPing inland waterways then speaking with your GP straight away can help stop symptoms developing. Early treatment can reduce the severity of any infection and shorten symptom’s duration. There are some preventative medicines available if you can’t avoid what you feel is contaminated water.

It should be noted that paddling in river, canals and lakes doesn’t mean you’re going to contract Leptospirosis. As with everything SUP carries an element of risk. Knowing those risk, however, means you can make informed decisions and keep as safe as possible.