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Visitor Health Warning: Elevated Risk of Leptospirosis Infection in New Zealand

Posted by te2ataria on June 25, 2008

New Zealand Deadly Infections Syndrome (NZDIS), Health Bulletin # 14. Elevated Risk of Human Leptospirosis Infection June 25, 2008

New Zealand: KEEP OUT!

New Zealand has the highest rates of human leptospirosis in the developed world, according to a new study.

The disease, which is passed to humans through the urine of sheep, cattle, pigs, rodents and deer, attacks the kidneys and liver and can cause death.

Meat workers, inspectors, farmers and veterinarians are among the most common occupationally exposed groups.

A meat worker died from the disease, and an increase in the number of cases of leptospirosis in meat workers in Hawke’s Bay has been reported.

Massey University’s veterinarian Jackie Benschop said in the last 20 years there had been a big push to vaccinate dairy cattle and pigs against leptospirosis, but exposure from deer, beef cattle and sheep was also high.

“Our results add weight to the hypothesis that sheep are an important source of leptospiral infections to humans.” (Source)

This scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts a number of Leptospira sp. bacteria atop a 0.1. µm polycarbonate filter. Leptospires are long, thin motile spirochetes that may be free-living or associated with animal hosts and survive well in fresh water, soil, and mud in tropical areas. Organisms are antigenically complex, with over 200 known pathogenic serologic variants. Molecular taxonomic studies at CDC and elsewhere have identified 13 named and 4 unnamed species of pathogenic leptospires. Leptospirosis causes a wide range of symptoms, and some infected persons may have no symptoms at all. Symptoms of leptospirosis include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash. (Source: phil.CDC.gov)

Leptospirosis Data

  • In New Zealand meat workers are one of the occupations most at risk of contracting leptospirosis, comprising 30 percent of notifications in 2006
  • Infection can result in severe illness and in some cases death.
  • During 2003-2005 leptospirosis resulted in 207 hospitalisations
  • The majority of cases of leptospirosis are relatively mild and may be misdiagnosed as influenza.
  • The true incidence of leptospirosis is probably many times the reported incidence.
  • Leptospira species have many animal hosts including the main livestock species, wildlife and rodents.
  • An NZ slaughterhouse survey in lambs found 59 percent of lines had one or more carcasses with antibodies to two of the strains of leptospirosis – hardjo-bovis or pomona.
  • Leptospirosis occurs more frequently in humans in NZ than in any other country where it is notifiable.
  • Beef herds exposure to hardjo-bovis and pomona is high with prevalence estimates over 50 percent for serovar hardjo-bovis.
  • A survey of 110 deer farms found hardjo-bovis was present on 61 percent.
  • A slaughter-house survey in lambs found 49 percent of lines had one or more carcasses with titres to either hardjo-bovis, pomona or both
  • There is evidence that clinical disease in sheep and deer is emerging with morbidity and mortality in lambs and weaners. (Source)

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Photomicrograph of kidney tissue, using a silver staining technique, revealing the presence of Leptospira bacteria. Photo credit: CDC/Dr. Martin Hicklin Public Health Image Library

Before you opt for a kidney transplant, please ensure the kidney is obtained ethically!

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