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Malcolm Downs of Faversham catches Weil's disease caught from rats during fishing trip in France

A Faversham man contracted a deadly disease that affects fewer than 40 people each year in the UK.

Malcolm Downs of the Knole is warning fellow fisherman after he was diagnosed with Weil’s disease - the same fatal illness that killed Olympic rowing champion Andy Holmes in 2010.

Fishing in Reims in France, 57-year-old Malcolm had no idea that he could be at risk of becoming life-threateningly ill – it was the same trip he had done annually for many years.

Malcolm Downs was diagnosed with Weils disease after a fishing trip to France
Malcolm Downs was diagnosed with Weils disease after a fishing trip to France

But fishing with open cuts on his legs could’ve been a fatal move as Weil’s disease (also known as leptospirosis) is spread by contact with soil or water contaminated with urine of certain wild animals, particularly rats.

The father of two and grandfather said: “The disease can take about two weeks before symptoms start to show so I was back in England by the time I started feeling unwell.

“I was fishing early on Sunday morning. I was absolutely fine about 7.30am but by 10am, I had the shakes, my arms and legs were killing me and I had really bad chest pains – I don’t think I’d ever felt that ill.

“Luckily I went to hospital straight away.”

Malcolm heard from a friend that somebody else had contracted Weil’s disease recently but had shrugged it off as the symptoms being flu or food poisoning.

But after a few days bed-ridden, he was rushed to hospital and spent weeks in intensive care where his organs started to shut down.

Malcolm Down after catching a fish
Malcolm Down after catching a fish

Fortunately, he had a lucky escape and his story prompted Malcolm to go straight to hospital – a move that probably saved his life.

He said: “That’s what made me go to hospital and as soon as I got there they rushed me straight in.

“I had an ECG to check my heart and loads of blood tests. That was Sunday afternoon. By Monday morning, the infection had quadrupled.

“If I hadn’t have gone to hospital straight away, I don’t know where I would be now.”

Malcolm is still recovering and is hoping to be back at work next week but is still having blood tests and taking tablets.

There is a reported rat infestation in Belmont Road. Stock image
There is a reported rat infestation in Belmont Road. Stock image

He has been a member of Faversham Angling Club for 47 years and only knows of one other member that has ever contracted it.

It is usually picked up abroad and Malcolm wants to warn other fishing enthusiasts to take precautions.

He said: “Thousands of people travel every year to fish in France and people need to be aware of the risks.

“People need to make sure they cover up any open cuts or prevent any other way of contracting the disease.”


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