Leptospirosis is the most common bacterial zoonoses and has been identified as an important emerging global public health problem in Southeast Asia. Rodents are important reservoirs for human leptospirosis, but epidemiological data is lacking.
We sampled rodents living in different habitats from seven localities distributed across Southeast Asia (Thailand, Lao PDR and Cambodia), between 2009 to 2010. Human isolates were also obtained from localities close to where rodents were sampled. The prevalence of Leptospira infection was assessed by real-time PCR using DNA extracted from rodent kidneys, targeting the lipL32 gene. Sequencing rrs and secY genes, and Multi Locus Variable-number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) analyses were performed on DNA extracted from rat kidneys for Leptospira isolates molecular typing. Four species were detected in rodents, L. borgpetersenii (56% of positive samples), L. interrogans (36%), L. kirschneri (3%) and L. weilli (2%), which were identical to human isolates. Mean prevalence in rodents was approximately 7%, and largely varied across localities and habitats, but not between rodent species. The two most abundant Leptospira species displayed different habitat requirements: L. interrogans was linked to humid habitats (rice fields and forests) while L. borgpetersenii was abundant in both humid and dry habitats (non-floodable lands).
L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii species are widely distributed amongst rodent populations, and strain typing confirmed rodents as reservoirs for human leptospirosis. Differences in habitat requirements for L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii supported differential transmission modes. In Southeast Asia, human infection risk is not only restricted to activities taking place in wetlands and rice fields as is commonly accepted, but should also include tasks such as forestry work, as well as the hunting and preparation of rodents for consumption, which deserve more attention in future epidemiological studies.
Leptospirosis is the most prevalent bacterial zoonosis worldwide. Rodents are believed to be the main reservoirs of Leptospira, yet little epidemiological research has been conducted on rodents from Southeast Asia. Previous studies suggest that activities which place humans in microenvironments shared by rodents increase the probability of contracting leptospirosis. We therefore investigated the circulation of leptospiral species and strains in rodent communities and human populations in seven localities scattered throughout Southeast Asia; in Thailand, Lao PDR and Cambodia. Molecular typing assays were used to characterize leptospiral species and strains in both rodents and humans, which demonstrated common strains between humans and rodents. Additionally, we observed that the two most abundant leptospiral species; L. borgpetersenii and L. interrogans, have different habitat requirements, which supposes different modes of transmission. Lastly, in Southeast Asia, the risk of leptospiral transmission to humans is not solely limited to wetlands and rice paddy fields, but is also linked to forested areas, and activities such as the hunting and/or preparation of rodents for consumption.