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1.  High Leptospira Diversity in Animals and Humans Complicates the Search for Common Reservoirs of Human Disease in Rural Ecuador 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(9):e0004990.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease responsible for high morbidity around the world, especially in tropical and low income countries. Rats are thought to be the main vector of human leptospirosis in urban settings. However, differences between urban and low-income rural communities provide additional insights into the epidemiology of the disease.
Methodology/Principal findings
Our study was conducted in two low-income rural communities near the coast of Ecuador. We detected and characterized infectious leptospira DNA in a wide variety of samples using new real time quantitative PCR assays and amplicon sequencing. We detected infectious leptospira in a high percentage of febrile patients (14.7%). In contrast to previous studies on leptospirosis risk factors, higher positivity was not found in rats (3.0%) but rather in cows (35.8%) and pigs (21.1%). Six leptospira species were identified (L. borgpetersenii, L kirschnerii, L santarosai, L. interrogans, L noguchii, and an intermediate species within the L. licerasiae and L. wolffii clade) and no significant differences in the species of leptospira present in each animal species was detected (χ2 = 9.89, adj.p-value = 0.27).
A large portion of the world’s human population lives in low-income, rural communities, however, there is limited information about leptospirosis transmission dynamics in these settings. In these areas, exposure to peridomestic livestock is particularly common and high prevalence of infectious leptospira in cows and pigs suggest that they may be the most important reservoir for human transmission. Genotyping clinical samples show that multiple species of leptospira are involved in human disease. As these genotypes were also detected in samples from a variety of animals, genotype data must be used in conjunction with epidemiological data to provide evidence of transmission and the importance of different potential leptospirosis reservoirs.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a febrile disease responsible for high morbidity rates all around the world. It is caused by spirochete bacteria in the genus Leptospira and transmitted to humans through animal urine or contaminated soil or water. The epidemiology of leptospirosis has been extensively studied in urban communities, where rats are thought to be the main animal reservoir of the disease. However, leptospirosis has been under-reported and under-studied in low-income rural areas where different conditions may result in different transmission risks. In two low-income rural communities near the coast of Ecuador, we detected and characterized leptospira from febrile patients and putative animal reservoirs. Our results show the complexity of leptospirosis epidemiology and suggest that livestock may serve as an under recognized source of leptospirosis. Understanding the epidemiology of leptospirosis in many settings provide insights into transmission that can ultimately be used to to prevent and control this disease.
PMCID: PMC5021363  PMID: 27622673
2.  Isolation of Leptospira noguchii from sheep 
Veterinary microbiology  2006;121(1-2):144-149.
The main goal of this study was to obtain new isolates of Leptospira spp. from sheep. A total of ten kidney samples and 44 blood samples were collected from sheep slaughtered in Pelotas, Southern Brazil. One isolate was obtained which was identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and serogrouping to be Leptospira noguchii serogroup Autumnalis. Microscopic agglutination test (MAT) evaluation revealed that 4.5% of the sheep sera reacted against the Autumnalis serogroup. This is the first report of isolation of L. noguchii from sheep. Together these findings indicate that L. noguchii infections may be a potentially important veterinary problem in this domestic animal species.
PMCID: PMC1868676  PMID: 17222993
leptospirosis; Leptospira noguchii; isolation; serogrouping; sheep; Brazil
3.  Determining Risk for Severe Leptospirosis by Molecular Analysis of Environmental Surface Waters for Pathogenic Leptospira 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e308.
Although previous data indicate that the overall incidence of human leptospirosis in the Peruvian Amazon is similar in urban and rural sites, severe leptospirosis has been observed only in the urban context. As a potential explanation for this epidemiological observation, we tested the hypothesis that concentrations of more virulent Leptospira would be higher in urban than in rural environmental surface waters.
Methods and Findings
A quantitative real-time PCR assay was used to compare levels of Leptospira in urban and rural environmental surface waters in sites in the Peruvian Amazon region of Iquitos. Molecular taxonomic analysis of a 1,200-bp segment of the leptospiral 16S ribosomal RNA gene was used to identify Leptospira to the species level. Pathogenic Leptospira species were found only in urban slum water sources (Fisher's exact test; p = 0.013). The concentration of pathogen-related Leptospira was higher in urban than rural water sources (~103 leptospires/ml versus 0.5 × 102 leptospires/ml; F = 8.406, p < 0.05). Identical 16S rRNA gene sequences from Leptospira interrogans serovar Icterohaemorrhagiae were found in urban slum market area gutter water and in human isolates, suggesting a specific mode of transmission from rats to humans. In a prospective, population-based study of patients presenting with acute febrile illness, isolation of L. interrogans-related leptospires from humans was significantly associated with urban acquisition (75% of urban isolates); human isolates of other leptospiral species were associated with rural acquisition (78% of rural isolates) (chi-square analysis; p < 0.01). This distribution of human leptospiral isolates mirrored the distribution of leptospiral 16S ribosomal gene sequences in urban and rural water sources.
Our findings data support the hypothesis that urban severe leptospirosis in the Peruvian Amazon is associated with higher concentrations of more pathogenic leptospires at sites of exposure and transmission. This combined quantitative and molecular taxonomical risk assessment of environmental surface waters is globally applicable for assessing risk for leptospiral infection and severe disease in leptospirosis-endemic regions.
Vinetz and colleagues used a quantitative real time PCR assay combined with molecular taxonomic analysis to quantify Leptospira in environmental surface waters in the Peruvian Amazon region of Iquitos.
Editors' Summary
Humans catch many diseases from animals—so-called zoonotic infections. Often, these occur in limited regions of the world. However, one—leptospirosis—occurs in temperate and tropical climates, and in urban and rural settings, making it the most widespread zoonotic disease. Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira, a large group of closely related spiral-shaped bacteria that live in both domestic animals (for example, cattle) and wild animals (particularly rats). Millions of humans become infected each year with leptospires through close contact with water, food, or soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals—swimming or wading in contaminated water is particularly hazardous. Some infected people have no symptoms; others develop a flu-like disease that clears up within a few days. However, in 5%–10% of infected people, the disease progresses to a second, sometimes fatal phase. This is usually characterized by jaundice, kidney problems, and an enlarged spleen (it's then called Weil disease) but can also involve the lungs (pulmonary leptospirosis). Leptospirosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics if treatment is started soon after infection.
Why Was This Study Done?
In a recent study in the Peruvian Amazon, half of the people visiting urban hospitals and rural health posts with acute fever had antibodies in their blood to Leptospira, suggesting that they had acute leptospirosis. However, only patients living in urban areas developed pulmonary leptospirosis. In this study, the researchers tested the hypothesis that this pattern arose because more virulent types of Leptospira were present at higher levels in urban environmental surface water than in rural water sources.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between June 2003 and March 2004, the researchers isolated strains of Leptospira from patients with acute fever who visited a hospital in the town of Iquitos or clinics in nearby villages. Early in 2004, they also collected a large number of different water samples from an urban slum in Iquitos and from a nearby rural community. They measured the concentrations of Leptospira in these samples by using a molecular technique called real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect and quantify a type of RNA found only in disease-causing Leptospira. They also identified which specific Leptospira were present in the water samples and the patient samples by sequencing this RNA. The researchers found that leptospires were present in both urban and rural water samples (particularly in samples from gutters and puddles in the urban slum's market area) but that their concentration in the positive water samples from the urban sites was 20 times that in the positive samples from the rural sites. Furthermore, the distribution of different Leptospira types isolated from the patients mirrored that of the bacteria in the local environment. So, one particular type of Leptospira interrogans known as icterohaemorrhagiae—the leptospire most commonly associated with severe leptospirosis in the patients—was found more often in the urban water samples than in the rural ones. Finally, the researchers discovered a new group of Leptospira in the rural environment. This group may contain one or several new species of Leptospira but whether any of them causes human disease is unknown.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results support the researchers' hypothesis that pulmonary leptospirosis in urban areas of the Peruvian Amazon is associated with high environmental levels of specific disease-causing leptospires. The researchers were able to discover this link only by using molecular techniques—this sort of study is impossible with traditional bacteriological techniques because Leptospira are hard to grow in the laboratory and cannot be isolated efficiently from environmental water sources. Different types can't be identified using a microscope. The researchers' findings need to be validated in other settings, but they suggest that environmental interventions such as reducing sources of standing water and clearing away garbage in urban areas might reduce the number of cases of severe leptospirosis. The distribution of different Leptospira types also suggests that whereas rats may be the main disease reservoir in towns, cattle, pigs, and bats may be more important in rural settings in Peru and presumably elsewhere. Overall, this new information, together with the availability of molecular methods for rapid clinical diagnosis and environmental risk assessment, should aid attempts to control leptospirosis around the world.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, information for patients and professionals on leptospirosis
The Leptospirosis Information Center, information and advice on human leptospirosis for the public and medical professionals
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on leptospirosis
NHS Direct Online, patient information on leptospirosis from the UK National Health Service online encyclopedia
Wikipedia pages on leptospirosis (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1551915  PMID: 16933963
4.  Human Leptospirosis Caused by a New, Antigenically Unique Leptospira Associated with a Rattus Species Reservoir in the Peruvian Amazon 
As part of a prospective study of leptospirosis and biodiversity of Leptospira in the Peruvian Amazon, a new Leptospira species was isolated from humans with acute febrile illness. Field trapping identified this leptospire in peridomestic rats (Rattus norvegicus, six isolates; R. rattus, two isolates) obtained in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas of the Iquitos region. Novelty of this species was proven by serological typing, 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, and DNA-DNA hybridization analysis. We have named this species “Leptospira licerasiae” serovar Varillal, and have determined that it is phylogenetically related to, but genetically distinct from, other intermediate Leptospira such as L. fainei and L. inadai. The type strain is serovar Varillal strain VAR 010T, which has been deposited into internationally accessible culture collections. By microscopic agglutination test, “Leptospira licerasiae” serovar Varillal was antigenically distinct from all known serogroups of Leptospira except for low level cross-reaction with rabbit anti–L. fainei serovar Hurstbridge at a titer of 1∶100. LipL32, although not detectable by PCR, was detectable in “Leptospira licerasiae” serovar Varillal by both Southern blot hybridization and Western immunoblot, although on immunoblot, the predicted protein was significantly smaller (27 kDa) than that of L. interrogans and L. kirschneri (32 kDa). Isolation was rare from humans (2/45 Leptospira isolates from 881 febrile patients sampled), but high titers of MAT antibodies against “Leptospira licerasiae” serovar Varillal were common (30%) among patients fulfilling serological criteria for acute leptospirosis in the Iquitos region, and uncommon (7%) elsewhere in Peru. This new leptospiral species reflects Amazonian biodiversity and has evolved to become an important cause of leptospirosis in the Peruvian Amazon.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis has emerged as a globally important infectious disease. Its impact on public health is often difficult to determine, sometimes because of low clinical suspicion, or, as is more common, difficulty in laboratory diagnosis. Gold-standard serology-based diagnosis has a number of important limitations, including the need to use live leptospires that have a sufficient diversity of antigens to be able to detect specific anti-leptospiral antibodies; such antigens vary greatly from region to region. In this paper, we report the discovery of a new species of Leptospira in the highly biodiverse region of the Peruvian Amazon, and demonstrate that the animal source of infection for humans is the domestic rat. Detailed biological characterization of this new species shows that it is antigenically unique and represents a new serogroup and serovar, proposed as Leptospira licerasiae serogroup Iquitos serovar Varillal. Incorporation of this new isolate into serological testing of patients presenting with acute febrile illness in Iquitos, Peru, showed a far higher incidence of leptospirosis than previously suspected, showing the important of using region-specific Leptospira in diagnosis. The field-to-laboratory approach presented here has general application to the discovery of other emerging pathogens and their impact on human health.
PMCID: PMC2271056  PMID: 18382606
5.  A Single Multilocus Sequence Typing (MLST) Scheme for Seven Pathogenic Leptospira Species 
The available Leptospira multilocus sequence typing (MLST) scheme supported by a MLST website is limited to L. interrogans and L. kirschneri. Our aim was to broaden the utility of this scheme to incorporate a total of seven pathogenic species.
Methodology and Findings
We modified the existing scheme by replacing one of the seven MLST loci (fadD was changed to caiB), as the former gene did not appear to be present in some pathogenic species. Comparison of the original and modified schemes using data for L. interrogans and L. kirschneri demonstrated that the discriminatory power of the two schemes was not significantly different. The modified scheme was used to further characterize 325 isolates (L. alexanderi [n = 5], L. borgpetersenii [n = 34], L. interrogans [n = 222], L. kirschneri [n = 29], L. noguchii [n = 9], L. santarosai [n = 10], and L. weilii [n = 16]). Phylogenetic analysis using concatenated sequences of the 7 loci demonstrated that each species corresponded to a discrete clade, and that no strains were misclassified at the species level. Comparison between genotype and serovar was possible for 254 isolates. Of the 31 sequence types (STs) represented by at least two isolates, 18 STs included isolates assigned to two or three different serovars. Conversely, 14 serovars were identified that contained between 2 to 10 different STs. New observations were made on the global phylogeography of Leptospira spp., and the utility of MLST in making associations between human disease and specific maintenance hosts was demonstrated.
The new MLST scheme, supported by an updated MLST website, allows the characterization and species assignment of isolates of the seven major pathogenic species associated with leptospirosis.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a common zoonotic disease worldwide. Genotyping of the causative organisms provides important insights into disease transmission and informs preventive strategies and vaccine development. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) is the most widespread genotyping methodology for bacterial pathogens, but the Leptospira scheme supported by a public MLST database is currently only applicable to L. interrogans and L. kirschneri. The purpose of this study was to extend the scheme to a total of seven pathogenic Leptospira species. This was achieved through the development of a modified scheme in which one of the seven MLST loci was replaced, together with newly designed primers for the remaining 6 loci. Comparison of the original and modified scheme demonstrated that they were very similar, hence sequence type (ST) assignments were largely carried over to the modified scheme. Phylogenetic trees reconstructed from concatenated sequences of the seven loci of the modified scheme demonstrated perfect classification of isolates into seven pathogenic species, which resided in clearly distinct phylogenetic clusters. Congruence was low between STs and serovars. The MLST scheme was used to gain new insights into the population genetic structure of Leptospira species associated with clinical disease and maintenance hosts in Asia.
PMCID: PMC3554523  PMID: 23359622
6.  Human Leptospirosis on Reunion Island, Indian Ocean: Are Rodents the (Only) Ones to Blame? 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(6):e0004733.
Although leptospirosis is a zoonosis of major concern on tropical islands, the molecular epidemiology of the disease aiming at linking human cases to specific animal reservoirs has been rarely explored within these peculiar ecosystems.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Five species of wild small mammals (n = 995) as well as domestic animals (n = 101) were screened for Leptospira infection on Reunion Island; positive samples were subsequently genotyped and compared to Leptospira from clinical cases diagnosed in 2012–2013 (n = 66), using MLST analysis. We identified two pathogenic species in human cases, namely Leptospira interrogans and Leptospira borgpetersenii. Leptospira interrogans was by far dominant both in clinical samples (96.6%) and in infected animal samples (95.8%), with Rattus spp and dogs being its exclusive carriers. The genetic diversity within L. interrogans was apparently limited to two sequence types (STs): ST02, identified among most clinical samples and in all rats with complete MLST, and ST34, identified in six humans, but not in rats. Noteworthy, L. interrogans detected in two stray dogs partially matched with ST02 and ST34. Leptospira borgpetersenii was identified in two clinical samples only (3.4%), as well as in cows and mice; four haplotypes were identified, of which two seemingly identical in clinical and animal samples. Leptospira borgpetersenii haplotypes detected in human cases were clearly distinct from the lineage detected so far in the endemic bat species Mormopterus francoismoutoui, thus excluding a role for this volant mammal in the local human epidemiology of the disease.
Our data confirm rats as a major reservoir of Leptospira on Reunion Island, but also pinpoint a possible role of dogs, cows and mice in the local epidemiology of human leptospirosis. This study shows that a comprehensive molecular characterization of pathogenic Leptospira in both clinical and animal samples helps to gaining insight into leptospirosis epidemiology within a specific environmental setting.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a zoonosis caused by infection with pathogenic Leptospira species. A broad range of animals, including rodents, pets and livestock, are maintenance hosts for leptospires. However, assessing the relative importance of each host in the contamination of the environment and, in fine, in the infection of humans, has rarely been performed. In this study, we surveyed various wild and domestic animal species and their Leptospira carriage in Reunion Island, where human leptospirosis is endemic. We determined and compared the Leptospira genetic diversity at the species and infra-species levels in laboratory-confirmed human cases and in infected animals. The two Leptospira species infecting humans, Leptospira interrogans and Leptospira borgpetersenii, could be traced back to different animal species: rats and dogs for the former species, cows and mice for the latter. The Leptospira infecting the single bat species endemic to the island was not found to be involved in human leptospirosis. Aside from rats, which were expected to play a role in the local epidemiology of the disease, the putative role of dogs, cattle and mice in human epidemiology on Reunion Island, pinpointed by our data, deserves a specific investigation. These results have strong implications in terms of local control actions aimed at reducing the burden of human leptospirosis.
PMCID: PMC4905629  PMID: 27294677
7.  Epidemiology of Leptospirosis in Africa: A Systematic Review of a Neglected Zoonosis and a Paradigm for ‘One Health’ in Africa 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(9):e0003899.
Leptospirosis is an important but neglected bacterial zoonosis that has been largely overlooked in Africa. In this systematic review, we aimed to summarise and compare current knowledge of: (1) the geographic distribution, prevalence, incidence and diversity of acute human leptospirosis in Africa; and (2) the geographic distribution, host range, prevalence and diversity of Leptospira spp. infection in animal hosts in Africa.
Following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, we searched for studies that described (1) acute human leptospirosis and (2) pathogenic Leptospira spp. infection in animals. We performed a literature search using eight international and regional databases for English and non-English articles published between January 1930 to October 2014 that met out pre-defined inclusion criteria and strict case definitions.
Results and Discussion
We identified 97 studies that described acute human leptospirosis (n = 46) or animal Leptospira infection (n = 51) in 26 African countries. The prevalence of acute human leptospirosis ranged from 2 3% to 19 8% (n = 11) in hospital patients with febrile illness. Incidence estimates were largely restricted to the Indian Ocean islands (3 to 101 cases per 100,000 per year (n = 6)). Data from Tanzania indicate that human disease incidence is also high in mainland Africa (75 to 102 cases per 100,000 per year). Three major species (Leptospira borgpetersenii, L. interrogans and L. kirschneri) are predominant in reports from Africa and isolates from a diverse range of serogroups have been reported in human and animal infections. Cattle appear to be important hosts of a large number of Leptospira serogroups in Africa, but few data are available to allow comparison of Leptospira infection in linked human and animal populations. We advocate a ‘One Health’ approach to promote multidisciplinary research efforts to improve understanding of the animal to human transmission of leptospirosis on the African continent.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is an important bacterial zoonosis that affects people and animals worldwide. It is common in tropical areas where people and animals live in close contact, but the disease has been widely neglected in Africa. In this study we aimed to demonstrate the extent of leptospirosis in Africa and describe the diversity of the causative agent Leptospira spp. in human and animal infections across the continent. Through a systematic literature review, we identified 97 studies from 26 African countries that described human disease or animal infection and met inclusion criteria. Leptospirosis was the cause of illness in 2 3% to 19 8% of hospital patients with a fever. Where population-level data were available, leptospirosis was estimated to affect 3 to 102 people per 100,000 every year. A variety of animal hosts of Leptospira spp. were identified. Cattle were reported as carriers of a variety of serological types of Leptospira spp. infection. The role of cattle and many other different animal hosts in human disease transmission remains unclear. Our review demonstrates that leptospirosis is a substantial cause of human illness in Africa, and we recommend integration of human and animal studies in the future to help us understand the epidemiology of leptospirosis on this continent.
PMCID: PMC4569256  PMID: 26368568
8.  Direct Detection and Differentiation of Pathogenic Leptospira Species Using a Multi-Gene Targeted Real Time PCR Approach 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112312.
Leptospirosis is a growing public and veterinary health concern caused by pathogenic species of Leptospira. Rapid and reliable laboratory tests for the direct detection of leptospiral infections in animals are in high demand not only to improve diagnosis but also for understanding the epidemiology of the disease. In this work we describe a novel and simple TaqMan-based multi-gene targeted real-time PCR approach able to detect and differentiate Leptospira interrogans, L. kirschneri, L. borgpeteresenii and L. noguchii, which constitute the veterinary most relevant pathogenic species of Leptospira. The method uses sets of species-specific probes, and respective flanking primers, designed from ompL1 and secY gene sequences. To monitor the presence of inhibitors, a duplex amplification assay targeting both the mammal β-actin and the leptospiral lipL32 genes was implemented. The analytical sensitivity of all primer and probe sets was estimated to be <10 genome equivalents (GE) in the reaction mixture. Application of the amplification reactions on genomic DNA from a variety of pathogenic and non-pathogenic Leptospira strains and other non-related bacteria revealed a 100% analytical specificity. Additionally, pathogenic leptospires were successfully detected in five out of 29 tissue samples from animals (Mus spp., Rattus spp., Dolichotis patagonum and Sus domesticus). Two samples were infected with L. borgpetersenii, two with L. interrogans and one with L. kirschneri. The possibility to detect and identify these pathogenic agents to the species level in domestic and wildlife animals reinforces the diagnostic information and will enhance our understanding of the epidemiology of leptopirosis.
PMCID: PMC4232388  PMID: 25398140
9.  Prospective Study of Leptospirosis Transmission in an Urban Slum Community: Role of Poor Environment in Repeated Exposures to the Leptospira Agent 
Leptospirosis has emerged as an urban health problem as slum settlements have rapidly spread worldwide and created conditions for rat-borne transmission. Prospective studies have not been performed to determine the disease burden, identify risk factors for infection and provide information needed to guide interventions in these marginalized communities.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We enrolled and followed a cohort of 2,003 residents from a slum community in the city of Salvador, Brazil. Baseline and one-year serosurveys were performed to identify primary and secondary Leptospira infections, defined as respectively, seroconversion and four-fold rise in microscopic agglutination titers. We used multinomial logistic regression models to evaluate risk exposures for acquiring primary and secondary infection. A total of 51 Leptospira infections were identified among 1,585 (79%) participants who completed the one-year follow-up protocol. The crude infection rate was 37.8 per 1,000 person-years. The secondary infection rate was 2.3 times higher than that of primary infection rate (71.7 and 31.1 infections per 1,000 person-years, respectively). Male gender (OR 2.88; 95% CI 1.40–5.91) and lower per capita household income (OR 0.54; 95% CI, 0.30–0.98 for an increase of $1 per person per day) were independent risk factors for primary infection. In contrast, the 15–34 year age group (OR 10.82, 95% CI 1.38–85.08), and proximity of residence to an open sewer (OR 0.95; 0.91–0.99 for an increase of 1 m distance) were significant risk factors for secondary infection.
This study found that slum residents had high risk (>3% per year) for acquiring a Leptospira infection. Re-infection is a frequent event and occurs in regions of slum settlements that are in proximity to open sewers. Effective prevention of leptospirosis will therefore require interventions that address the infrastructure deficiencies that contribute to repeated exposures among slum inhabitants.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a disease that is transmitted by human contact with an environment contaminated with urine from animals, such as rodents, infected by the Leptospira bacteria. Human illness due to these bacteria can be mild, or can have very severe complications. Residents of urban slum settlements are at high risk for this disease, but the specific risk factors for transmission in these settlements are not understood because of the lack of prospective studies in this epidemiological setting. We performed a prospective study in a Brazilian slum community to measure the risk of infection, identify the environmental and social factors that place slum residents at risk for infection, and determine whether some individuals are at risk of repeated infections. We identified a burden of infection with leptospirosis among slum residents, and found that male gender and low income both increase the risk for infection. In addition, a significant proportion of slum residents had a second exposure to leptospirosis and re-infection occurred most frequently among young adults and the poorest members of the slum community who reside in proximity of open sewers. These risk factors are amenable to interventions aimed to reduce the burden that leptospirosis imparts in this high-risk setting.
PMCID: PMC4038618  PMID: 24875389
10.  Leptospira Serovars for Diagnosis of Leptospirosis in Humans and Animals in Africa: Common Leptospira Isolates and Reservoir Hosts 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(12):e0004251.
The burden of leptospirosis in humans and animals in Africa is higher than that reported from other parts of the world. However, the disease is not routinely diagnosed in the continent. One of major factors limiting diagnosis is the poor availability of live isolates of locally circulating Leptospira serovars for inclusion in the antigen panel of the gold standard microscopic agglutination test (MAT) for detecting antibodies against leptospirosis. To gain insight in Leptospira serovars and their natural hosts occurring in Tanzania, concomitantly enabling the improvement of the MAT by inclusion of fresh local isolates, a total of 52 Leptospira isolates were obtained from fresh urine and kidney homogenates, collected between 1996 and 2006 from small mammals, cattle and pigs. Isolates were identified by serogrouping, cross agglutination absorption test (CAAT), and molecular typing. Common Leptospira serovars with their respective animal hosts were: Sokoine (cattle and rodents); Kenya (rodents and shrews); Mwogolo (rodents); Lora (rodents); Qunjian (rodent); serogroup Grippotyphosa (cattle); and an unknown serogroup from pigs. Inclusion of local serovars particularly serovar Sokoine in MAT revealed a 10-fold increase in leptospirosis prevalence in Tanzania from 1.9% to 16.9% in rodents and 0.26% to 10.75% in humans. This indicates that local serovars are useful for diagnosis of human and animal leptospirosis in Tanzania and other African countries.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis disease is widespread in humans and broad range of animal species in Africa. However, leptospirosis is highly neglected and not extensively taught in both medical and veterinary schools almost across Africa. Availability of live leptospires isolated from Africa for use in its diagnosis by the gold standard microscopic agglutination test (MAT) is also a major problem. This study reports on local Leptospira serovars and their natural hosts consisting of different animal species, for inclusion in diagnosis of leptospirosis in Africa. A total of 52 Leptospira isolates were obtained from fresh urine and kidneys. African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys sp.) and insectivore shrew species (Crocidura sp.) had the highest leptospires isolation success. These were identified by serogrouping, cross-agglutination absorption test and molecular typing. Common Leptospira serovars with their respective animals were: serovar Sokoine (cattle and rodents); Kenya (rodents and shrews); Mwogolo (rodents); Lora (rodents); Canicola (rodents); Grippotyphosa (cattle); and an unknown serogroup from pigs. Inclusion of local serovar Sokoine in serodiagnosis revealed a 10-fold increase in leptospirosis prevalence from 1.9% to 16.9% in rodents and 0.26% to 10.75% in humans. Future serodiagnosis of leptospirosis in Africa should include these serovars and serovar Hardjo, Hebdomadis, Pomona and other local isolates.
PMCID: PMC4666418  PMID: 26624890
11.  Influence of Household Rat Infestation on Leptospira Transmission in the Urban Slum Environment 
The Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) is the principal reservoir for leptospirosis in many urban settings. Few studies have identified markers for rat infestation in slum environments while none have evaluated the association between household rat infestation and Leptospira infection in humans or the use of infestation markers as a predictive model to stratify risk for leptospirosis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We enrolled a cohort of 2,003 urban slum residents from Salvador, Brazil in 2004, and followed the cohort during four annual serosurveys to identify serologic evidence for Leptospira infection. In 2007, we performed rodent infestation and environmental surveys of 80 case households, in which resided at least one individual with Leptospira infection, and 109 control households. In the case-control study, signs of rodent infestation were identified in 78% and 42% of the households, respectively. Regression modeling identified the presence of R. norvegicus feces (OR, 4.95; 95% CI, 2.13–11.47), rodent burrows (2.80; 1.06–7.36), access to water (2.79; 1.28–6.09), and un-plastered walls (2.71; 1.21–6.04) as independent risk factors associated with Leptospira infection in a household. We developed a predictive model for infection, based on assigning scores to each of the rodent infestation risk factors. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis found that the prediction score produced a good/excellent fit based on an area under the curve of 0.78 (0.71–0.84).
Our study found that a high proportion of slum households were infested with R. norvegicus and that rat infestation was significantly associated with the risk of Leptospira infection, indicating that high level transmission occurs among slum households. We developed an easily applicable prediction score based on rat infestation markers, which identified households with highest infection risk. The use of the prediction score in community-based screening may therefore be an effective risk stratification strategy for targeting control measures in slum settings of high leptospirosis transmission.
Author Summary
The Norway rat is an important reservoir for urban leptospirosis, a life-threatening zoonotic disease. In urban settings, leptospirosis transmission occurs primarily in the peri-domiciliary environment of the slums. Rodent control is one of the most frequent strategies to prevent leptospirosis, but the identification of domiciles at higher risk of transmission is challenging. We compared households where an individual with evidence of recent leptospirosis infection resided and households where none of the residents had evidence for infection. Houses with evidence of leptospirosis transmission had higher levels of rodent infestation and environmental conditions related to rodents. We propose a new methodology to easily characterize slum households, based on environmental characteristics, at different levels of risk for leptospirosis transmission. The findings of this study indicate that evaluation for rodent infestation intensity and environmental features may be a feasible strategy for targeting augmented control measures for leptospirosis.
PMCID: PMC4256176  PMID: 25474580
12.  Leptospira species and serovars identified by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry after database implementation 
BMC Research Notes  2014;7:330.
Leptospirosis, a spirochaetal zoonotic disease of worldwide distribution, endemic in Europe, has been recognized as an important emerging infectious disease, though yet it is mostly a neglected disease which imparts its greatest burden on impoverished populations from developing countries. Leptospirosis is caused by the infection with any of the more than 230 serovars of pathogenic Leptospira sp. In this study we aimed to implement the MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry (MS) database currently available in our laboratory with Leptospira reference pathogenic (L. interrogans, L. borgpetersenii, L. kirschneri, L. noguchii), intermediate (L. fainei) and saprophytic (L. biflexa) strains of our collection in order to evaluate its possible application to the diagnosis of leptospirosis and to the typing of strains. This was done with the goal of understanding whether this methodology could be used as a tool for the identification of Leptospira strains, not only at species level for diagnostic purposes, but also at serovar level for epidemiological purposes, overcoming the limits of serological and molecular conventional methods. Twenty Leptospira reference strains were analysed by MALDI-TOF MS. Statistical analysis of the protein spectra was performed by ClinProTools software.
The spectra obtained by the analysis of the reference strains tested were grouped into 6 main classes corresponding to the species analysed, highlighting species-specific protein profiles. Moreover, the statistical analysis of the spectra identified discriminatory peaks to recognize Leptospira strains also at serovar level extending previously published data.
In conclusion, we confirmed that MALDI-TOF MS could be a powerful tool for research and diagnostic in the field of leptospirosis with broad applications ranging from the detection and identification of pathogenic leptospires for diagnostic purposes to the typing of pathogenic and non-pathogenic leptospires for epidemiological purposes in order to enrich our knowledge about the epidemiology of the infection in different areas and generate control strategies.
PMCID: PMC4048046  PMID: 24890024
Leptospira sp.; MALDI-TOF MS; Identification; Database implementation
13.  Overlooked Risk for Chronic Kidney Disease after Leptospiral Infection: A Population-Based Survey and Epidemiological Cohort Evidence 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(10):e0004105.
Leptospirosis is the most widespread zoonosis. Chronic human infection and asymptomatic colonization have been reported. However, renal involvement in those with leptospira chronic exposure remains undetermined.
Methods and Findings
In 2007, a multistage sampling survey for chronic kidney disease (CKD) was conducted in a southern county of Taiwan, an area with a high prevalence of dialysis. Additionally, an independent cohort of 88 participants from a leptospira-endemic town was followed for two years after a flooding in 2009. Risks of CKD, stages of CKD, associated risk factors as well as kidney injury markers were compared among adults with anti-leptospira antibody as defined by titers of microscopic agglutination test (MAT). Of 3045 survey participants, the individuals with previous leptospira exposure disclosed a lower level of eGFR (98.3±0.4 vs 100.8±0.6 ml/min per 1.73 m2, P<0.001) and a higher percentage of CKD, particularly at stage 3a-5 (14.4% vs 8.5%), than those without leptospira exposure. Multivariable linear regression analyses indicated the association of leptospiral infection and lower eGFR (95% CI -4.15 to -1.93, P < 0.001). In a leptospiral endemic town, subjects with a MAT titer ≥400 showed a decreased eGFR and higher urinary kidney injury molecule–1 creatinine ratio (KIM1/Cr) level as compared with those having lower titers of MAT (P<0.05). Furthermore, two participants with persistently high MAT titers had positive urine leptospira DNA and deteriorating renal function.
Conclusions and Significance
Our data are the first to show that chronic human exposure of leptospirosis is associated significantly with prevalence and severity of CKD and may lead to deterioration of renal function. This study also shed light on the search of underlying factors in areas experiencing CKD of unknown aetiology (CKDu) such as Mesoamerican Nephropathy.
Author Summary
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has a high and increasing worldwide prevalence.
Leptospirosis, an important re-emerging infectious disease caused by the pathogenic spirochete Leptospira, is the most widespread zoonosis throughout the world, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions. Chronic human infection and asymptomatic colonization have been reported. However, the evidence of renal involvement in those with leptospira exposure history or human carrier remains undetermined. In this study we found that those individuals with previous leptospira exposure disclosed a lower renal function and a higher percentage of CKD. Additionally, in our cohort study, those with a high serum titer by leptospira agglutination test showed decreased renal function and higher kidney injury marker. We are the first to identify the association between CKD and leptospiral infection. This information may provide a novel approach for CKD of unknown aetiology but also significantly impact global control of leptospirosis and CKD burden.
PMCID: PMC4599860  PMID: 26452161
14.  A Dominant Clone of Leptospira interrogans Associated with an Outbreak of Human Leptospirosis in Thailand 
A sustained outbreak of leptospirosis occurred in northeast Thailand between 1999 and 2003, the basis for which was unknown.
Methods and Findings
A prospective study was conducted between 2000 and 2005 to identify patients with leptospirosis presenting to Udon Thani Hospital in northeast Thailand, and to isolate the causative organisms from blood. A multilocus sequence typing scheme was developed to genotype these pathogenic Leptospira. Additional typing was performed for Leptospira isolated from human cases in other Thai provinces over the same period, and from rodents captured in the northeast during 2004. Sequence types (STs) were compared with those of Leptospira drawn from a reference collection. Twelve STs were identified among 101 isolates from patients in Udon Thani. One of these (ST34) accounted for 77 (76%) of isolates. ST34 was Leptospira interrogans, serovar Autumnalis. 86% of human Leptospira isolates from Udon Thani corresponded to ST34 in 2000/2001, but this figure fell to 56% by 2005 as the outbreak waned (p = 0.01). ST34 represented 17/24 (71%) of human isolates from other Thai provinces, and 7/8 (88%) rodent isolates. By contrast, 59 STs were found among 76 reference strains, indicating a much more diverse population genetic structure; ST34 was not identified in this collection.
Development of an MLST scheme for Leptospira interrogans revealed that a single ecologically successful pathogenic clone of L. interrogans predominated in the rodent population, and was associated with a sustained outbreak of human leptospirosis in Thailand.
Author Summary
A sustained outbreak of human leptospirosis occurred in northeast Thailand between 1999 and 2003, the basis for which was unknown. Leptospirosis is a potentially serious infection cause by bacteria known as Leptospira; infection usually occurs following environmental exposure to pathogenic Leptospira shed in the urine of an infected animal. The purpose of this study was to obtain bacterial isolates from humans with leptospirosis around the time of the Thai outbreak for genotyping, and to relate these to the maintenance host animal. To achieve this, a bacterial typing scheme (multilocus sequence typing, MLST) was developed for L. interrogans, the major cause of human disease. This approach has the advantage over existing typing schemes in that the data generated are amenable to detailed evolutionary analysis, and are readily comparable via the internet. Our results demonstrated the emergence of a dominant clone of L. interrogans serovar Autumnalis; this was the major cause of human disease during the outbreak, and was found in a maintenance host which was defined as the bandicoot rat.
PMCID: PMC2041815  PMID: 17989782
15.  Distribution and Diversity of Pathogenic Leptospira Species in Peri-domestic Surface Waters from South Central Chile 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(8):e0004895.
Leptospirosis is a neglected zoonosis affecting animals and humans caused by infection with Leptospira. The bacteria can survive outside of hosts for long periods of time in soil and water. While identification of Leptospira species from human cases and animal reservoirs are increasingly reported, little is known about the diversity of pathogenic Leptospira species in the environment and how surveillance of the environment might be used for monitoring and controlling disease.
Methods and Findings
Water samples (n = 104) were collected from the peri-domestic environment of 422 households from farms, rural villages, and urban slums participating in a broader study on the eco-epidemiology of leptospirosis in the Los Rios Region, Chile, between October 2010 and April 2012. The secY region of samples, previously detected as pathogenic Leptospira by PCR, was amplified and sequenced. Sequences were aligned using ClustalW in MEGA, and a minimum spanning tree was created in PHYLOViZ using the goeBURST algorithm to assess sequence similarity. Sequences from four clinical isolates, 17 rodents, and 20 reference strains were also included in the analysis. Overall, water samples contained L. interrogans, L. kirschneri, and L. weilii, with descending frequency. All species were found in each community type. The distribution of the species differed by the season in which the water samples were obtained. There was no evidence that community-level prevalence of Leptospira in dogs, rodents, or livestock influenced pathogen diversity in the water samples.
This study reports the presence of pathogenic Leptospira in the peri-domestic environment of households in three community types and the differences in Leptospira diversity at the community level. Systematic environmental surveillance of Leptospira can be used for detecting changes in pathogen diversity and to identify and monitor contaminated areas where an increased risk of human infection exists.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease that is caused by either direct contact with the urine of animals infected with pathogenic forms of Leptospira, or indirectly, through contact with contaminated water or soil. Because many people become infected through the environment, where the bacteria can live for many months if the conditions are suitable, we tested water samples from the peri-domestic area in twelve different communities from Los Rios region, Chile, to examine whether the Leptospira species were different in urban, rural village, and farm areas. We found that all three community types had L. interrogans, L. kirschneri, and L. weilii. No evident associations were seen between animal infection and the frequency or diversity of Leptospira. The proposed surveillance method has potential for systematic monitoring of surface waters that will help us better understand the importance of animal, climate, and environmental factors in the variation of Leptospira species present in a community in order to predict infection risk and inform prevention programs.
PMCID: PMC4986978  PMID: 27529550
16.  Household Transmission of Leptospira Infection in Urban Slum Communities 
Leptospirosis, a spirochaetal zoonotic disease, is the cause of epidemics associated with high mortality in urban slum communities. Infection with pathogenic Leptospira occurs during environmental exposures and is traditionally associated with occupational risk activities. However, slum inhabitants reside in close proximity to environmental sources of contamination, suggesting that transmission during urban epidemics occurs in the household environment.
Methods and Findings
A survey was performed to determine whether Leptospira infection clustered within households located in slum communities in the city of Salvador, Brazil. Hospital-based surveillance identified 89 confirmed cases of leptospirosis during an outbreak. Serum samples were obtained from members of 22 households with index cases of leptospirosis and 52 control households located in the same slum communities. The presence of anti-Leptospira agglutinating antibodies was used as a marker for previous infection. In households with index cases, 22 (30%) of 74 members had anti-Leptospira antibodies, whereas 16 (8%) of 195 members from control households had anti-Leptospira antibodies. Highest titres were directed against L. interrogans serovars of the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroup in 95% and 100% of the subjects with agglutinating antibodies from case and control households, respectively. Residence in a household with an index case of leptospirosis was associated with increased risk (OR 5.29, 95% CI 2.13–13.12) of having had a Leptospira infection. Increased infection risk was found for all age groups who resided in a household with an index case, including children <15 years of age (P = 0.008).
This study identified significant household clustering of Leptospira infection in slum communities where recurrent epidemics of leptospirosis occur. The findings support the hypothesis that the household environment is an important transmission determinant in the urban slum setting. Prevention therefore needs to target sources of contamination and risk activities which occur in the places where slum inhabitants reside.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis has emerged to become an urban slum health problem. Epidemics of severe leptospirosis, characterized by jaundice, acute renal failure and haemorrhage, are now reported in cities throughout the developing world due to rapid expansion of slum settlements, which in turn has produced the ecological conditions for rodent-borne transmission of the spirochete pathogen. A survey was performed in the city of Salvador, Brazil, to determine whether the risk of Leptospira infection clustered in households within slum communities in which a member had developed severe leptospirosis. We found that members of households with an index case of leptospirosis had more than five times the risk of having serologic evidence for a prior infection than members of neighbourhood households in the same communities. Increased risk of infection was found among all age groups who resided in these households. The finding that Leptospira infection clusters in specific slum households indicates that the factors associated with this environment are important determinants for transmission. Further research is needed to identify the sources of contamination and risk exposures which occur in the places where slum inhabitants reside such that effective community-based prevention of urban leptospirosis can be implemented.
PMCID: PMC2270796  PMID: 18357340
17.  Interaction of Bovine Peripheral Blood Polymorphonuclear Cells and Leptospira Species; Innate Responses in the Natural Bovine Reservoir Host 
Cattle are the reservoir hosts of Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar Hardjo, and can also be reservoir hosts of other Leptospira species such as L. kirschneri, and Leptospira interrogans. As a reservoir host, cattle shed Leptospira, infecting other animals, including humans. Previous studies with human and murine neutrophils have shown activation of neutrophil extracellular trap or NET formation, and upregulation of inflammatory mediators by neutrophils in the presence of Leptospira. Humans, companion animals and most widely studied models of Leptospirosis are of acute infection, hallmarked by systemic inflammatory response, neutrophilia, and septicemia. In contrast, cattle exhibit chronic infection with few outward clinical signs aside from reproductive failure. Taking into consideration that there is host species variation in innate immunity, especially in pathogen recognition and response, the interaction of bovine peripheral blood polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs) and several Leptospira strains was evaluated. Studies including bovine-adapted strains, human pathogen strains, a saprophyte and inactivated organisms. Incubation of PMNs with Leptospira did induce slight activation of neutrophil NETs, greater than unstimulated cells but less than the quantity from E. coli P4 stimulated PMNs. Very low but significant from non-stimulated, levels of reactive oxygen peroxides were produced in the presence of all Leptospira strains and E. coli P4. Similarly, significant levels of reactive nitrogen intermediaries (NO2) was produced from PMNs when incubated with the Leptospira strains and greater quantities in the presence of E. coli P4. PMNs incubated with Leptospira induced RNA transcripts of IL-1β, MIP-1α, and TNF-α, with greater amounts induced by live organisms when compared to heat-inactivated leptospires. Transcript for inflammatory cytokine IL-8 was also induced, at similar levels regardless of Leptospira strain or viability. However, incubation of Leptospira strains with bovine PMNs did not affect Leptospira viability as measured by limiting dilution culture. This is in contrast to previously reported results of innate inflammatory activation by Leptospira in human and other animal models, or the activation and interaction of bovine PMNs with Escherichia coli and other bacterial pathogens. While it could be hypothesized that variations in innate receptor recognition, specifically variance in toll-like receptor 2, could underlie the observed reduction of activation in bovine PMNs, additional studies would be needed to explore this possibility. Reduction in neutrophil responses may help to establish nearly asymptomatic chronic Leptospira infection of cattle. This study emphasizes the importance of studying host-pathogen relationships in the appropriate species as extrapolation from other animal models may be incorrect and confounded by differences in the host responses.
PMCID: PMC4949235  PMID: 27486445
Leptospira; serovar Hardjo; neutrophils; bovine host
18.  Responses of Murine and Human Macrophages to Leptospiral Infection: A Study Using Comparative Array Analysis 
Leptospirosis is a re-emerging tropical infectious disease caused by pathogenic Leptospira spp. The different host innate immune responses are partially related to the different severities of leptospirosis. In this study, we employed transcriptomics and cytokine arrays to comparatively calculate the responses of murine peritoneal macrophages (MPMs) and human peripheral blood monocytes (HBMs) to leptospiral infection. We uncovered a series of different expression profiles of these two immune cells. The percentages of regulated genes in several biological processes of MPMs, such as antigen processing and presentation, membrane potential regulation, and the innate immune response, etc., were much greater than those of HBMs (>2-fold). In MPMs and HBMs, the caspase-8 and Fas-associated protein with death domain (FADD)-like apoptosis regulator genes were significantly up-regulated, which supported previous results that the caspase-8 and caspase-3 pathways play an important role in macrophage apoptosis during leptospiral infection. In addition, the key component of the complement pathway, C3, was only up-regulated in MPMs. Furthermore, several cytokines, e.g. interleukin 10 (IL-10) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), were differentially expressed at both mRNA and protein levels in MPMs and HBMs. Some of the differential expressions were proved to be pathogenic Leptospira-specific regulations at mRNA level or protein level. Though it is still unclear why some animals are resistant and others are susceptible to leptospiral infection, this comparative study based on transcriptomics and cytokine arrays partially uncovered the differences of murine resistance and human susceptibility to leptospirosis. Taken together, these findings will facilitate further molecular studies on the innate immune response to leptospiral infection.
Author Summary
Although pathogenic Leptospira is not an obligate intracellular pathogen, recent studies have shown that phagocytosis and innate immunity play important roles in leptospirosis. The Leptospira-macrophage interaction is a common model used to elucidate the initial response in leptospiral infection. Our previous research has shown that there is little difference in the transcriptomics of pathogenic Leptospira infecting murine or human macrophage cell lines. Contrarily, in this study, we observed significant differences of murine and human primary macrophages infected by L. interrogans as shown in several processes, such as antigen processing and presentation, Toll-like receptor signaling pathway and innate immune response, complement and coagulation cascades, expression of major cytokines and chemokines, etc. These results suggested that different immune responses explain the major disparities in the murine and human Leptospira-macrophage infection models. This study added to the former leptospiral transcriptomics research on the Leptospira-macrophage interaction model and laid a foundation for further investigation in the pathogenesis of leptospirosis.
PMCID: PMC3794915  PMID: 24130911
19.  Isolation and Characterization of Two Novel Plasmids from Pathogenic Leptospira interrogans Serogroup Canicola Serovar Canicola Strain Gui44 
Previous genomic analysis of pathogenic Leptospira has identified two circular chromosomes but no plasmid. This study aims to investigate potential extrachromosomal elements of L.interrogans serovar Canicola strain Gui44.
Two novel plasmids, pGui1 and pGui2, were isolated from the pathogenic strain Gui44, using a modified alkaline lysis method. Southern blotting was performed to determine the presence and size of them. Then, 454 and Hiseq sequencing were applied to obtain and analyze the complete sequences of the two plasmids. Furthermore, real-time quantitative PCR and next-generation sequencing were used to compare relative copy numbers of the two plasmids with that of the chromosomes. Finally, after serial passages in vitro for more than 2 years, the strain Gui44 was subsequently re-sequenced to estimate stability of the two plasmids.
Principal Findings
The larger plasmid, pGui1, 74,981 base pairs (bp) in length with GC content of 34.63%, possesses 62 open reading frames (ORFs). The smaller plasmid, pGui2, is 66,851 bp in length with GC content of 33.33%, and contains 63 ORFs. The replication initiation proteins encoded by pGui1 and pGui2 demonstrate significant sequence similarity with LA1839 (86% and 88%), a well-known replication protein in another pathogenic L.interrogans serovar Lai strain Lai, suggesting the ability for autonomous plasmid replication. Quantitative PCR and next-generation sequencing confirms a single copy of both plasmids and their stable presence in the strain Gui44 with in vitro serial passages after more than 2 years. Interestingly, the two plasmids both contain a significant number of novel genes (35 in pGui1 and 52 in pGui2).
This report confirms the presence of two separate circular plasmids in serovar Canicola strain Gui44 and provides a new understanding of genomic organization, adaptation, evolution and pathogenesis of Leptospira, which will aid in the development of in vivo genetic manipulation systems in pathogenic Leptospira species.
Author Summary
Leptospira species are the causative agent of leptospirosis, one of the most common animal to human transmitted diseases. Previous genomic analysis of L.interrogans serovar Lai and Copenhageni has identified the presence of large (4.33 mega base) and small (350 kilo base) circular chromosomes without evidence of any plasmids. Detailed understanding of Leptospira and its pathogenicity was delayed by the lack of available genetic tools. In this study we confirm the existence of two novel plasmids in L.interrogans serovar Canicola strain Gui44, an epidemic strain in China. Some novel genes identified in the two plasmids may play important roles in the characterization of the strain. The two plasmids will provide useful information in understanding the diversity of Leptospira genome and markedly improve our understanding of the evolution and pathogenesis of L.interrogans. In particular, it will contribute to the development of genetic manipulation systems in pathogenic Leptospira species.
PMCID: PMC4140679  PMID: 25144555
20.  Identification of Cell-Binding Adhesins of Leptospira interrogans 
Leptospirosis is a globally distributed bacterial infectious disease caused by pathogenic members of the genus Leptospira. Infection can lead to illness ranging from mild and non-specific to severe, with jaundice, kidney and liver dysfunction, and widespread endothelial damage. The adhesion of pathogenic Leptospira species (spp.), the causative agent of leptospirosis, to host tissue components is necessary for infection and pathogenesis. While it is well-established that extracellular matrix (ECM) components play a role in the interaction of the pathogen with host molecules, we have shown that pathogenic Leptospira interrogans binds to host cells more efficiently than to ECM components. Using in vitro phage display to select for phage clones that bind to EA.hy926 endothelial cells, we identified the putative lipoproteins LIC10508 and LIC13411, and the conserved hypothetical proteins LIC12341 and LIC11574, as candidate L. interrogans sv. Copenhageni st. Fiocruz L1–130 adhesins. Recombinant LIC11574, but not its L. biflexa homologue LBF1629, exhibited dose-dependent binding to both endothelial and epithelial cells. In addition, LIC11574 and LIC13411 bind to VE-cadherin, an endothelial cell receptor for L. interrogans. Extraction of bacteria with the non-ionic detergent Triton X-114 resulted in partitioning of the candidate adhesins to the detergent fraction, a likely indication that these proteins are outer membrane localized. All candidate adhesins were recognized by sera obtained from leptospirosis patients but not by sera from healthy individuals as assessed by western blot. This work has identified bacterial adhesins that are potentially involved in L. interrogans infection of the mammalian host, and through cadherin binding, may contribute to dissemination and vascular damage. Our findings may be of value in leptospirosis control and prevention, with the bacterial adhesins potentially serving as targets for development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis, caused by pathogenic species of the genus Leptospira, is an infectious disease that has emerged as a globally important health problem. Infection can either lead to mild illness or can progress to a severe disease form manifested by jaundice, kidney and liver dysfunction, and widespread blood vessel damage. It is thought that the ability of the bacteria to recognize and bind to human and animal cells is important for Leptospira spp. to cause the disease. Using phage display, we were able to identify bacterial proteins that mediate the binding of the bacteria to host cells. One of the identified proteins, LIC11574, attaches to different types of host cells, and to VE-cadherin, a cell surface protein previously identified as receptor for disease-causing L. interrogans. All bacterial proteins identified were recognized by sera obtained from leptospirosis patients but not by sera from healthy individuals. Our findings may be of value in leptospirosis control and prevention, with these bacterial surface proteins as new targets for serodiagnosis and vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC4183468  PMID: 25275630
21.  Leptospira Seroprevalence and Risk Factors in Health Centre Patients in Hoima District, Western Uganda 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(8):e0004858.
The burden of human leptospirosis in Uganda is unknown. We estimated the seroprevalence of Leptospira antibodies, probable acute/recent leptospirosis, and risk factors for seropositivity in humans in rural Western Uganda.
Methodology and Principal Findings
359 non-pregnant adults visiting the Kikuube and Kigorobya Health Centers were sequentially recruited during March and April 2014. A health history survey and serum were collected from consented participants. Overall, 69% reported having fever in the past year, with 49% reporting malaria, 14% malaria relapse, 6% typhoid fever, 3% brucellosis, and 0% leptospirosis. We tested sera by microscopic agglutination test (MAT) against eight Leptospira serovars representing seven serogroups. Leptospira seroprevalence was 35% (126/359; 95%CI 30.2–40.3%) defined as MAT titer ≥ 1:100 for any serovar. The highest prevalence was against L. borgpetersenii Nigeria (serogroup Pyrogenes) at 19.8% (71/359; 95%CI 15.9–24.4%). The prevalence of probable recent leptospirosis (MAT titer ≥1:800) was 1.9% (95%CI 0.9–4.2%) and uniquely related to serovar Nigeria (serogroup Pyrogenes). Probable recent leptospirosis was associated with having self-reported malaria within the past year (p = 0.048). Higher risk activities included skinning cattle (n = 6) with 12.3 higher odds (95%CI 1.4–108.6; p = 0.024) of Leptospira seropositivity compared with those who had not. Participants living in close proximity to monkeys (n = 229) had 1.92 higher odds (95%CI 1.2–3.1; p = 0.009) of seropositivity compared with participants without monkeys nearby.
The 35% prevalence of Leptospira antibodies suggests that exposure to leptospirosis is common in rural Uganda, in particular the Nigeria serovar (Pyrogenes serogroup). Leptospirosis should be a diagnostic consideration in febrile illness and “smear-negative malaria” in rural East Africa.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is an emerging zoonotic disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Despite its relatively common frequency, mild/moderate leptospirosis often goes unrecognized, due to its usually non-specific symptoms of fever, vomiting, and malaise. Knowledge of leptospirosis in Uganda is limited, and the disease may often be misdiagnosed as malaria. This study sought to define the percentage of healthcare seeking Ugandans in rural Western Uganda who have antibodies to Leptospira in their blood, suggesting prior exposure. We found 35% of study participants had antibodies to at least one Leptospira serovar, predominantly L. borgpetersenii sv Nigeria representing the Pyrogenes serogroup (20% of all participants). Individuals with increased odds of having antibodies to leptospires included participants who skinned cattle and those who reported monkeys near their home. Individuals who self-reported recent diagnosis of malaria were more likely to have leptospirosis antibodies. Antibodies to leptospirosis are not lifelong, typically lasting a few years. The high 35% seroprevalence suggests there is ongoing exposure. Further studies are needed to understand the burden of leptospirosis in rural Africa, the risk factors associated with exposure, and the public health opportunities to mitigate leptospirosis.
PMCID: PMC4972303  PMID: 27487398
22.  Identification of the Hemolysis-Associated Protein 1 as a Cross-Protective Immunogen of Leptospira interrogans by Adenovirus-Mediated Vaccination 
Infection and Immunity  2001;69(11):6831-6838.
New vaccine strategies are needed for the prevention of leptospirosis, a widespread human and animal disease caused by pathogenic leptospires. Our previous work determined that a protein leptospiral extract conferred cross-protection in a gerbil model of leptospirosis. The 31- to 34-kDa protein fraction of Leptospira interrogans serovar autumnalis was shown sufficient for this purpose. In the present study, N-terminal sequencing of a 32-kDa fraction and Southern blotting of genomic DNA with corresponding degenerated oligonucleotide probes identified two of its constituents: hemolysis-associated protein 1 (Hap1) and the outer membrane Leptospira protein 1 (OmpL1). Adenovirus-mediated Hap1 vaccination induces significant protection against a virulent heterologous Leptospira challenge in gerbils, whereas a similar OmpL1 construct failed to protect the animals. These data indicate that Hap1 could be a good candidate for developing a new generation of vaccines able to induce broad protection against leptospirosis disease.
PMCID: PMC100061  PMID: 11598056
23.  Isolation of a Seawater Tolerant Leptospira spp. from a Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(12):e0144974.
Leptospirosis is the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. It is caused by pathogenic spirochetes of the genus Leptospira spp. and is maintained in nature through chronic renal infection of carrier animals. Rodents and other small mammals are the main reservoirs. Information on leptospirosis in marine mammals is scarce; however, cases of leptospirosis have been documented in pinniped populations from the Pacific coast of North America from southern California to British Columbia. We report the isolation of a Leptospira spp. strain, here named Manara, from a kidney sample obtained from a Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) calf, which stranded dead in Playa Manara, Península Valdés, Argentina. This strain showed motility and morphology typical of the genus Leptospira spp. under dark-field microscopy; and grew in Ellinghausen-McCullough-Johnson-Harris (EMJH) medium and Fletcher medium after 90 days of incubation at 28°C. Considering the source of this bacterium, we tested its ability to grow in Fletcher medium diluted with seawater at different percentages (1%, 3%, 5%, 7% and 10% v/v). Bacterial growth was detected 48 h after inoculation of Fletcher medium supplemented with 5% sea water, demonstrating the halophilic nature of the strain Manara. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences placed this novel strain within the radiation of the pathogenic species of the genus Leptospira spp., with sequence similarities within the range 97–100%, and closely related to L. interrogans. Two different PCR protocols targeting genus-specific pathogenic genes (G1-G2, B64I-B64II and LigB) gave positive results, which indicates that the strain Manara is likely pathogenic. Further studies are needed to confirm this possibility as well as determine its serogroup. These results could modify our understanding of the epidemiology of this zoonosis. Until now, the resistance and ability to grow in seawater for long periods of time had been proven for the strain Muggia of L. biflexa, a saprophytic species. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first isolation of a Leptospira sp. from cetaceans. Our phenotypic data indicate that strain Manara represents a novel species of the genus Leptospira, for which the name Leptospira brihuegai sp. nov. is proposed.
PMCID: PMC4700976  PMID: 26714322
24.  Human leptospirosis in Tanzania: sequencing and phylogenetic analysis confirm that pathogenic Leptospira species circulate among agro-pastoralists living in Katavi-Rukwa ecosystem 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2016;16:273.
Leptospirosis is a neglected zoonotic disease of worldwide public health importance. The disease affects humans, domestic animals and wildlife. However, leptospirosis is challenging in its diagnosis in humans. Culture technique, which is time consuming, is not recommended for clinical diagnosis. For these reasons, serological and molecular techniques remain the test of choice. The major objective of this study was to explore the genetic characteristic of Leptospira species which are prevalent among agro-pastoralists living in Katavi–Rukwa Ecosystem, Tanzania.
A cross-sectional epidemiological study was carried out in the Katavi-Region South-west, Tanzania between August, 2013 and November, 2014. A total of 267 participants were randomly recruited for the study. Microscopic agglutination test (MAT) was used to detect antibody against six Leptospira antigens including local serogroups Icterohaemorrhagiae, Ballum, Grippotyphosa, Sejroe and reference serogroups Hebdomadis, and Australis. Samples with MAT titers ≥ 1:160 were scored as positive, samples with MAT titers ranging from 1:20 to 1:80 were scored as exposed to Leptospira, and absence of agglutination titers was scored as negative. All MAT positive samples, including the low titre samples were subjected to PCR using the respective 16S rRNA primers for the pathogenic and non-pathogenic species.
Out of 267 samples tested, 80 (29.9 %) were positive with MAT. The major circulating leptospiral serogroups were Sejroe (15.7 %,), Icterohaemorrhagiae (8.9 %), Grippotyphosa (4.8 %), Hebdomadis (3.37 %), Australis (1.49 %) and Ballum (1.19 %). By using PCR, 33 (15.7 %) out of 210 samples were pathogenic Leptospira while no saprophytic Leptospira spp. was detected. Partial 16S rRNA gene sequences of Leptospira species which were obtained from this study were submitted to GenBank and acquired accession numbers KP313246 and KP313247. Phylogenetic analysis of the nucleotide sequences revealed that species obtained from Katavi-Rukwa ecosystem clustered in the same group with several published pathogenic Leptospira specifically Leptospira interrogans and Leptospira kirschneri. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study from Tanzania to confirm pathogenic Leptospira in human subjects using genomic typing technique.
These findings provide ultimate evidence of pathogenic Leptospira species circulating among agro-pastoralists living in Katavi-Rukwa Ecosystem suggesting that active disease surveillance should be undertaken in order to achieve greater protection of the agro-pastoral communities in Tanzania.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12879-016-1588-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4902944  PMID: 27287703
Leptospirosis; Sequencing; Phylogenetic Analysis; Katavi-Rukwa Ecosystem; Tanzania
25.  Draft Genome Sequence of Brazilian Leptospira noguchii Serogroup Panama Strain U73, Isolated from Cattle 
Genome Announcements  2015;3(5):e01179-15.
Leptospira noguchii is a current zoonotic pathogen in Brazil. Here, we report the draft genome sequence of the Brazilian L. noguchii serogroup Panama strain U73, isolated from asymptomatic cattle urine.
PMCID: PMC4611683  PMID: 26472831

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