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Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research

On-line version ISSN 2219-0635
Print version ISSN 0030-2465

Onderstepoort j. vet. res. vol.79 n.2 Pretoria Jan. 2012




Leptospirosis in South Africa



Adrienne SaifI, II; John FreanI, II; Jenny RossouwII; Anastasia N. TratarisI, II

IUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
IISpecial Bacterial Pathogens Reference Unit, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Health Laboratory Services, South Africa

Correspondence to



Leptospirosis is a common zoonosis worldwide. It has a ubiquitous distribution and causes a wide spectrum of disease. Leptospirosis therefore has a broad reservoir host range, and many infected species of animals excrete leptospires in their urine, which leads to contamination of soil and water. Typical descriptions of the disease include a biphasic (anicteric form) and fulminant disease in the icterohaemorrhagic form. Only a few local case reports of human leptospirosis have been published, the most recent one being in 1974.

A rodent-related zoonosis study (RatZooMan) was conducted from 2003 until 2006 in three provinces (Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape). Of the people sampled in Cato Crest (Durban, KwaZulu-Natal Province), 43/217 (19.8%) were seropositive for leptospirosis. Of the clinical samples sent to the Special Bacterial Pathogens Reference Unit from all over the country for testing in 2009, 16/176 (9%) were IgM positive; in 2010 and January 2011 to May 2011, 14/215 (6.5%) and 12/96 (12.5%), respectively, were IgM positive.

The apparent incidence of leptospirosis in the South African population is moderately high based on the detected positives in suspected cases; it is thought that the circulating infection rate may be even higher when looking at the RatZooMan results. This may be due to underreporting and undiagnosed cases. Communities in informal settlements in urban areas are especially at risk as infected rodent populations are a continuous source of transmission.



Correspondence to:
Adrienne Saif
Private Bag X4, Sandringham 2131, South Africa



Note: Proceedings of the Conference of the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance 'One Health' held at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, July 2011.

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