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Robert M. Smith

and Wendy J. Zochowski

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date: 26 January 2022

Leptospirosis is one of the most widespread and important zoonotic pathogens and is of global medical and veterinary importance. Clinical disease ranges from mild self-limiting influenza – like illness to fulminating repeats-several failure.

It is caused by bacterial spirochaetes of the genus Leptospira, family Leptospiraceae. Pathogenic Leptospira interrogans strains, of which there are over 230 serovars in 24 serogroups, are morphologically identical in that they are thin, helical highly motile Gram-negative bacteria, hooked at one or both ends.

Natural hosts of pathogenic strains, generally referred to as serovars, may cause infection in man and include wild animals (rodents), livestock (cattle and pigs) and pets (dogs). Most, if not all mammals may become long-term carriers (maintenance hosts). Leptospires become located in the renal tubules and excreted in the urine of infected reservoir animals, humans becoming infected through broken skin, mucous membranes and the conjunctivae.

Leptospirosis is most commonly found in tropical or sub-tropical countries in both urban and rural settings. It causes major economic losses, to the highly intensive cattle and pig industries in developed countries, primarily through their effects on reproduction. It is still an important occupational disease risk for people working in agriculture or those living in unsanitary conditions. It is increasingly recognised as a recreational and travel-associated disease.

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