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How worried should we be about Weil's disease?

27th October 2010

Doctors have said that Olympic gold medal winner Andy Holmes is likely to have died from the effects of Weil's disease.

Bacteria

Holmes, who won gold medals for rowing at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and the Seoul Olympics in 1988, died on 24 October.

Medics said it was probable that he contracted a serious form of the disease, also known as leptospirosis, from unclean river water.

The disease exists worldwide, but is more of a problem in tropical climates. Animals such as cattle are carriers of the bacterium and can pass it on to humans.

In the UK, farmers are usually the people with the highest danger of being infected. However, people who enjoy watersports on lakes and rivers also run the risk of catching the disease.

Lakes and rivers can be contaminated with animal urine, which contains the bacterium responsible for the disease.

The Health Protection Agency said two or three people die from the disease annually.

Chris Williams, club chairman of the Tideway Scullers School in London, said rowers were surprised by Andy Holmes' death.

"It's very sad about Andy. We used to pass each other on the water from time to time. The disease is something all rowers know about. It's in all of our literature and safety programmes that stress good hygiene, like keeping cuts covered."

"It shows that anyone can be at risk and how important it is to protect yourself," he added.

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