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Police issue health warning over derelict building contaminated by bacterial infection

The derelict White House building may have been contaminated with Leptospirosis. Credit: Google Streetview

Police have issued a health warning over a derelict building in Devon after finding traces of a bacterial infection while investigating a fire on New Year's Day.

The White House building on the Esplanade in Woolacombe was damaged in the fire yesterday but police now say anyone who may have been inside before the fire could have been exposed to a form of Leptospirosis.

The health warning - which particularly relates to children and young people - says the building is potentially contaminated with Weils Disease which is linked to rat urine.

Police say anyone who entered the building could be at risk and should seek medical advice over whether they have been exposed.

Police say the infection may have been spread by rat urine. Credit: PA Images

Fire crews were called to the derelict White House after reports of smoke coming from the property's windows.

They found the building under renovation and were able to bring the fire under control in the afternoon.

But police now say there is a risk to anyone who had been in the building before the fire broke out - although they say the risk of contracting the infection remains low.

Police are warning anyone who may have been inside the property before the fire to seek medical help. Credit: Google Streetview

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a type of bacterial infection spread by animals to humans and caused by a strain of bacteria called leptospira.

It's normally spread by touching soil or water contaminated with the urine of animals infected by the bacteria. Rats are the most common carriers of Leptospirosis, although cows, pigs and even dogs can carry it too.

In the vast majority of cases (90%), Leptospirosis only causes mild flu-like symptoms including a headache, chills and muscle pain but occasionally the infection is more severe and can cause life-threatening problems, including organ failure and internal bleeding.

In its most severe form, leptospirosis is known as Weil's disease.

Leptospirosis infections are notoriously difficult to diagnose and are very uncommon in the UK with less than 40 cases reported in England and Wales each year.

Many cases originate overseas or are seen in people who regularly deal with animals such as farmers or vets.

It's incredibly rare for it to spread between humans and it is usually treated with a course of antibiotics.