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Leptospirosis and Ephedra warnings

By: LCDR William J. Upham, MSC, USN

Date Posted: 1998-09-25

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by an organism released in the urine of infected domestic and wild animals, transmitted by direct skin contact. Common symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills and severe muscle pain, usually occurring 10 days from the time of exposure.

In Okinawa, swimming should be avoided in natural fresh water sources, particularly in the northern region of Okinawa, between May and November. When hiking, avoid swampy or heavily vegetated watershed areas to reduce potential exposure. Do not drink untreated water from a stream or lake, especially in the northern regions.

Potential reservoirs for infection include pigs, wild rodents, dogs, and cattle. Mongoose have also been shown to carry leptospirosis. Many cases have been associated with recreational swimming at Hiji and Aha Falls.

Another problem which inflicts those on Okinawa are heat-related injuries, especially heat stress. Recently on Okinawa, there is mounting evidence that numerous power building/energy enhancing dietary supplements may be a contributing factor in heat related injuries. Many of these products claim to increase energy and stimulate weight loss, but some contain Ephedra or Ma Huang, a powerful stimulant which can adversely affect your central nervous system. Other side effects of Ephedra include increased blood pressure, irregular heart beat and stroke. If taken in combination with cold remedies, alcohol or caffeine, you may seriously impair your body’s ability to dissipate heat during strenuous physical exercise.

If you have any questions, please contact LCDR Upham of the Consolidated Preventative Medicine Unit, U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa at 643-7806.

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