Man caught a killer infection from rats urine after going swimming

Man who caught a killer infection from rats urine after taking a dip in a popular river warns others of the danger of Weil’s disease

  • Billy-Joe Humphries needed emergency treatment to combat his Weil’s disease
  • Mr Humphries went for a dip in Warleigh Weir, a popular swim spot near Bath
  • Doctors confirmed he caught Weil’s, which can be spread through rat urine

A man has warned youngsters about the dangers of swimming in ponds and streams after he caught a killer bug.

Billy-Joe Humphries, 26, is recovering after receiving emergency treatment after going for a dip in Warleigh Weir, a popular swim spot near Bath.

Doctors confirmed he caught Weil’s disease, which is spread through rat urine and can lead to life-threatening organ failure.

The bug is thought to have killed at least four people in Britain since 2009, including a former Olympian, and left many more with life-changing issues.

Mr Humphries has taken to Facebook to give people a heads up about the little-known danger of Weil’s, with the school summer holidays fast approaching.

Billy-Joe Humphries is recovering after receiving emergency treatment after going for a dip in Warleigh Weir, a popular swim spot near Bath

Doctors confirmed he caught Weil’s disease, which can be spread through rat urine and lead to life-threatening organ failure

He wrote: ‘Beware friends and family, I went to Warleigh Weir in Bath to swim.

‘The next morning I woke up with terrible flu symptoms. Thought it was just a summer cold.

‘Last night I never felt so ill in my life, so I called 111 to get advice. They sent an ambulance and booked an appointment for me to get to the doctors.

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‘I went to the doctors this morning to be told I have caught Weil’s disease, which is found in lakes and rivers that contain rats urine.

‘I have been given tablets and antibiotics for a chest infection and lung. Just beware before you go swimming in lakes and rivers, believe me it’s not nice at all.’

It comes after MailOnline revealed last month cases of Weil’s – known medically as leptospirosis – are at unprecedented levels.

Warleigh Weir (pictured) is a popular swim spot near Bath, on the Wiltshire-Somerset border


Leptospirosis, also known as Weil’s disease, is a rare infection spread by the urine of animals including rats, mice, cows, pigs and dogs.

The infection is more common in warmer, tropical climates. 

Symptoms include fever, headache, feeling and being sick, aching muscles and joints, red eyes, and a loss of appetite.  

Serious cases of the infection can cause yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), swollen ankles, feet or hands, chest pain, shortness of breath or coughing up blood.

Anyone who suspects they have Weil’s disease should see a doctor urgently.

It can be treated with antibiotics and may take between a few days and a few weeks to clear up. 

Without treatment the infection could take months to recover from, and could cause life-threatening kidney and liver failure. 

Although 90 per cent of cases are mild, between five and 15 per cent progress to a severe form which can cause organ failure and even death. Between one and five per cent of cases are fatal.

The infection is rare but people who do lots of outdoor activities or work with animals or animal parts can avoid catching it by washing their hands regularly, cleaning and covering wounds, wearing protective clothing, and getting their dog vaccinated.

Source: NHS Choices; Medical News Today

NHS figures show there were 102 hospital admissions for the bacterial infection last year, compared to just 36 four years ago. 

Weil’s, which can be difficult to diagnose without sophisticated tests, attacks the kidneys and liver, and claims the life of around one or two people every year.

The bacteria can get into the body through cuts and scratches after paddling in contaminated ponds, slow-flowing rivers and other freshwater sources.

Olympic rower Andy Holmes died of Weil’s disease aged 51 in 2010; he is thought to have caught it through hand blisters while rowing

British Olympic rowing champion Andy Holmes, 51, died of the infection in 2010. He twice partnered Sir Steve Redgrave to gold medal triumph.

It is believed he contracted Weil’s after racing on a waterway in Lincolnshire, where the bacteria could have entered his body through blisters on his hands.

Within hours of being admitted to hospital, Mr Holmes was in intensive care and doctors could do nothing as his organs started shutting down. 

Sir Steve paid tribute to his former partner, awarded an MBE in 1989 after a glittering career, and described his death as ‘sad and devastating’.

Although rats are seen as the main carriers of the illness, it can also be spread by the urine of other animals such as cattle, mice, foxes and badgers.  

The sharp rise in Weil’s comes as stronger poisons are increasingly being needed to crack down on a ‘rat epidemic’.

There have also been reports of giant 2-foot-long rats, which have grown immune to current poisons and feast on discarded fast food and household waste.

A Public Health England spokesman said: ‘The risk [of Weil’s] can be greatly reduced by not swimming or wading in water that might be contaminated.’

They urged anyone who develops a flu-like illness up to 12 days after coming into contact with fresh water or rats to visit their GP.

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