BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: Weils disease....potential health hazard
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UK Olympic rowing medallist Andy Holmes has sadly died from complications arising after contracting Weils Disease (Leptospirosis). Archaeology falls into the category of a profession where workers are in danger of coming into contact with this infection and the death of Andy Holmes should act as a reminder to us all of how significant a hazard leptospirosis might be.

I would urge anyone out in the field at present to check that their site risk assessment includes a review of the potential hazard and that adequate site hygiene rules are being applied.
As an archaeologist (well I do visit sites occasionally you know) and a rower, I saw the story and thought the same thing. Also be aware that although a handy alternative in an emergency, alcohol gel does not kill everything so wash your hands with hot water and soap at the earliest oportunity and especially before eating. This tip came from a miltary colleague who noticed that many of those who went down the high-tech route in Iraq spent a lot more time in the (frighteningly hot and unpleasant) portaloo, than those who applied both.

Although I haven't read the blurb on my old Letospirosis card for a long time, I seem to remember that the important thing is to visit your GP if you start to develop flu-like symptoms after being in a high risk environment (e.g. after getting a facefull of pump water).
Sith Wrote:Although I haven't read the blurb on my old Letospirosis card for a long time, I seem to remember that the important thing is to visit your GP if you start to develop flu-like symptoms after being in a high risk environment (e.g. after getting a facefull of pump water).

And be prepared for your doctor to tell you that as you don't work in the sewage industry, you have nothing to worry about; doctors can be as gratingly ignorant as the next person. So i have been led to believe.
I remember a few years back a colleague seeking medical treatment after developing worrying symptoms of encephalitis. After extensive tests it appeared that he had previously (and unbeknown to him at the time) contracted leptospirosis and part of his subsequent ailment might have been a result of damage that the original incidence of Weils Disease had inflicted..... I hear reports from friends who have worked in tropical climes that the same recurrent and subsequent effect can be caused to individuals who have contracted malaria and dengue fever, often unaware of their original infection or having passed it off as 'summer flu'... Do any archaeological employers still carry out pre-employment health assessments of employees, especially where they might be working on sites where risks of zoonotic infection or contaminants might be particularly high.

I once had to provide a blood sample and be examined to make sure I had been innoculated against smallpox before being allowed to take part in a cemetery excavation (I think the blood test was to establish pre-exisiting lead levels) and back in the late 80s the Museum of London arranged free tetanus innoculation for anyone who thought they needed a booster injection. Have such precautions been sacrificed to the modern day gods of economy?
From my own experiences, there is much room for improvement toward addressing the dangers of Weil’s disease on archaeological sites. The initial coverage of the topic during induction (CSCS, EUS etc) does well to raise awareness but perhaps a periodic reminder by the site first aider (s) would not go amiss. I’m aware, first hand, that on some smaller projects the potential for contracting and dealing with Weil’s disease wasn’t mentioned. 'Praemonitus, Praemunitus'!
Kevin and Gwyl your posts reminds me of a colleague who was working on a site in Chester years ago. She was working in and around tanning vats, and contracted welts and a nasty rash along on the inside of her arms, spreading towards the lymph nodes under her arms. She went to her GP who prescribed Cortisone cream. At the time we were associated with the University of Liverpool, she had access to the Tropical Med department. The doc there said the last thing she should put on it was Cortisone, which would have aggravated the condition. The docs ran a battery of tests on her for Wiel's, plague and several other zoonotic infections. The results came up blank and the Docs were genuinely perplexed. In the mean time the site was shut down until all people on site were issued with protective clothing and masks....with these precautions in place, excavations resumed (and after the results were available). She still has no idea what it was.
Moreno's example from Chester is an interesting one.

Leatherworking and tanning pits are potential sources of anthrax spores and studies suggest such spores can remain active for several centuries given the right ground conditions. I am sure that in this instance anthrax wasn't the cause of the workers rash, but it does demonstrate that a risk assessment should have identified the potential hazard and having identified the potential for anthrax, recommended protective clothing that would also have provided shielding from other infections.
Whilst we are on the subject, BAJRites might be interested in this article dating from 1985. It summarises the dangers of potential health hazards to archaeologists (and somehow forgets to mention letospirosis!).

Most interesting is the last sentence of the article: 'The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) booklet on safe working practice in excavations is now out of print and there is a gap that should not be hard to fill given the number of doctors with an interest in the subject'
I should have mentioned that Anthrax was considered and tested for. Additionally, health and saftey, risk assessement oversights (as in the case at Chester going back 10 years) regarding potential infectious hazards are still not usual.
Anthrax was still present amongst British farm livestock up to the middle of the 20th century, so don't assume that your 'modern' animal burial is safe!

Presumably smallpox should be back on the archaeological agenda since there's now a whole new generation of diggers who've never been innoculated for it?

Currently have vague, persistant flu-like symptoms, but am guessing thats from man-flu Sad
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