Leptospirosis – current risk factors connected with human activity and the environment
More details
Hide details
Department of Hygiene of Food of Animal Origin, National Veterinary Research Institute, Puławy, Poland
Department of Zoonoses, Institute of Rural Health, Lublin, Poland
Corresponding author
Bernard Wasiński   

Department of Hygiene of Food of Animal Origin, National Veterinary Research Institute, Puławy, Poland
Ann Agric Environ Med. 2013;20(2):239-244
Leptospirosis is a widespread although recently neglected zoonosis recognized worldwide. The disease seems to be underestimated, especially in countries located in the temperate climatic zone. The presented article concerns the main characteristics of leptospirosis and describes formerly known and recently observed environmental, occupational and recreational risk factors significant in the spreading and pathogenesis of the disease. The aspects of epidemiology significant in the temperate climatic zone are emphasized. The majority of cited articles present cases of the disease reported from Europe or North America. Climatic changes (warming) and extreme weather events such as floods are potential risk factors of leptospirosis. Also, some socio-economic phenomena, such as the intensive migration of people resulting in the transfer of the infections acquired in tropical countries, or worsening of economic status in the cities, increase the probability of disease. Apart from the danger connected with rodents, which are the main vectors of leptospires, occurrence of the disease in dogs and cats can generate a higher risk of infection for humans. Infections may also be acquired during various types of agricultural work and during recreational activities, such as swimming. The results of recent investigations show that ticks are also potential vectors of leptospires. The more frequent emergence of leptospirosis in countries located in the temperate climatic zone emphasize the need to verify knowledge related to the risk of its appearance, and to consider this disease during diagnostic processes.
Hartskeerl RA, Collares-Pereira M, Ellis WA. Emergence, control and re-emerging leptospirosis: dynamics of infection in the changing world. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2011; 17: 494–501.
Faine S. Leptospira and leptospirosis. 1st ed., Boca Raton; CRC Press 1994.
Zwierz J. Marsh fever in Silesia. Pol Tyg Lek. 1951; 6: 1510–1515 (in Polish).
Zwierz J. Leptospiroses. Edition 2. PZWL, Warsaw 1964 (in Polish).
Jansen A, Schöneberg I, Frank C, Alpers K, Schneider T, Stark K. Leptospirosis in Germany, 1962 – 2003. Emerg Infect Dis. 2005; 11: 1048–1054.
Baranton G, Postic D. Trends in leptospirosis epidemiology in France. Sixty-six years of passive serological surveillance from 1920 to 2003. Int J Infect Dis. 2006; 10: 162–170.
Lau CL, Smythe LD, Craig SB, Weinstein P. Climate change, flooding, urbanisation and leptospirosis: fuelling the fire? Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2010; 104: 631–638.
Vijayachari P, Sugunan AP, Shriram AN. Leptospirosis: an emerging global public health problem. J Biosci. 2008; 33: 557–569.
Kupek E, de Sousa Santos Faversani MC, de Souza Philippi JM. The relationship between rainfall and human leptospirosis in Florianópolis, Brazil, 1991–1996. Braz J Infect Dis. 2000 Jun;4(3):131–134.
van Creel F, Speelman P, Gravekamp C, Terpstra WJ. Leptospirosis in travelers. Clin Infect Dis. 1994; 19: 132–134.
Vinetz JM, Glass GE, Flexne CE, Mueller P, Kaslow DC. Sporadic urban leptospirosis. Ann Intern Med. 1996; 125: 794–798.
Prescot JF, McEWen B, Taylor J, Woods JP, Abrams-Ogg A, Wilcock B. Resurgence of leptospirosis in dogs in Ontario: recent findings. Can Vet J. 2002; 43: 955–961.
André-Fontaine G. Canine leptospirosis – Do we have a problem? Vet Microbiol. 2006; 117: 19–24.
Desai S, van Treeck U, Lierz M, Espelage W, Zota L, Sarbu A et al. Resurgence of field fever in temperate country: an epidemic of leptospirosis among seasonal strawberry harvesters in Germany 2007. Clin Infect Dis. 2009; 48: 691–697.
Guerra M. Leptospirosis. JAVMA. 2009; 234: 472–478.
Grzeszczuk A. Leptospirosis. In: Cianciara J, Juszczyk J. Infectious and Parasitic Diseases. Lublin, Czelej Sp. z o.o. 2007, 728–729 (in Polish).
Chedraui PA, San Miguel G. A case of leptospirosis and pregnancy. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2003; 269: 53–54.
Izurieta R, Galwankar S, Clem A. Leptospirosis: The „mysterious” mimic. J Emerg Traum Shock 2008; Jan–Jul: 21–33.
Plank R, Dean D. Overview of the epidemiology, microbiology, and pathogenesis of Leptospira spp. in humans. Microbes and Infection 2000; 2: 1265–1276.
Evangelista KV, Coburn J. Leptospira as an emerging pathogen: a review of its biology, pathogenesis and host immune responses. Future Microbiol. 2010; 5: 1413–1425.
Adler B, Lo M, Seemann T, Murray GL. Pathogenesis of leptospirosis: The influence of genomics. Veterinary Microbiology 2011; 153: 73–81.
Adler B, de la Pen˜a Moctezuma A. Leptospira and leptospirosis. Vet Microbiol 2010; 140: 287–296.
Campagnolo ER, Warwick MC, Marx HL, Cowart RP, Donnell HD, Bajani MD et al. Analysis of the 1998 outbreak of leptospirosis in Missouri in humans exposed to infected swine. J Am Med Vet Assoc. 2000; 216: 676–682.
Hart RJC, Gallagher J, Waitkins S. An outbreak of leptospirosis among cattle and man. BMJ. 1984; 288: 1983–1984.
Levine DF. Leptospirosis in the milking parlour. Br J Hosp Med. 1989; 42: 340.
Gollop JH, Katz AR, Rudoy RC, Sasaki DM. Rat-bite leptospirosis. West J Med. 1993; 159: 76–77.
Luzzi GA, Milne LM, Waitkins SA. Rat-bite acquired leptospirosis. J Infect. 1987; 15: 57–60.
Terry J, Trent M, Bartlet M. A cluster of leptospirosis among abattoir workers. Commun Dis Intell. 2000; 24: 158–160.
Krawczyk M. Estimation of transmission hazard of Leptospira sp. infections in 2 groups of people. Przegl Epidemiol. 2004; 58: 207–212 (in Polish).
Dastis-Bendala C, De Villar-Conde E, Marin-Leon I, Manzanares-Torne L, Perez-Lozano MJ, Cano-Fuentes G et al. Prospective serological study of leptospirosis in southern Spain. Eur J Epidemiol. 1996; 12: 257–262.
De Serres G, Levesque B, Higgins R, Major M, Laliberte D, Boulianne N et al. Need for vaccination of sewer workers against leptospirosis and hepatitis A. Occup Environ Med. 1995; 52: 505–507.
Adam RSF, Edmunds PN. Leptospiral serology in Scottish coal-miners. Brit J Industr Med. 1955; 12: 100–102.
Zavitsanou A, Babatsikou F. Leptospirosis: epidemiology and preventive measures. Health Science J. 2008; 2: 75–82.
Deutz A, Fuchs K, Schuller W, Nowotny N, Auer H, Aspöck H et al. Seroepidemiological studies of zoonotic infections in hunters in southeastern Austria – prevalences, risk factors and preventive methods. Berl Munch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 2003; 116: 306–311.
Demers RY, Frank R, Demers P, Clay M. Leptospiral exposure in Detroit rodent control workers. Am J Pub Hlth. 1985; 75: 1090–1091.
Johnston JH, Lloyd J, McDonald J, Waitkins J. Leptospirosis – an occupational disease of soldiers. J R Army Med Corps. 1983; 129: 111–114.
Robertson MH, Clarke IR, Coghlan JD, Gill ON. Leptospirosis in trout farmers. Lancet 1981; 2: 626–627.
Hotez PJ, Gurwith M. Europe’s neglected infections of poverty. Int J Infect Dis. 2011; 15(9): e611–9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2011.05.006.
Cruz LS, Vargas R, Lopes AA. Leptospirosis: a worldwide resurgent zoonosis and important cause of acute renal failure and death in developing nations. Ethn Dis. 2009; 19(Suppl 1): S1–37–41.
Childs JE, Schwarz BS, Ksiazek TG, Graham RR, LeDuc JW, Glass GE. Risk factors associated with antibodies to leptospires in inner-city residents of Baltimore: a protective role of cats. Am J Public Health. 1992; 82: 597–599.
Demers RY, Thiermann A, Demers P, Frank R. Exposure to Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae in inner-city and suburban children: a serologic comparison. J Fam Pract. 1983; 17: 1007–1011.
Adler H, Vonstein S, Deplazes P, Stieger C, Frei R. Prevalence of Leptospira spp. In various species of small mammals caught in inner-city area in Switzerland. Epidemiol Infect. 2002; 128: 107–109.
Mayer-Scholl A, Luge E, Hammerl J, Dremsek P, Plenge-Bönig A, Rietschel W, et al. Study on the Leptospira prevalence in rats in major German cities. Proceedings of the European Meeting of Leptospirosis Eurolepto. 2012; 31 May – 2 June 2012; Dubrovnik; Croatia.
Wincewicz E, Klimentowski S, Śmielewska-Łoś E, Jopek Z, Kucharczak E. Bacterial and mycotic infections in wild rats from various environments. Med Wet. 2001; 57: 402–407.
Sebek Z, Vlcek M. Kleinsäuger als Leptospirosewirte auf den Müldeponien. Geogr Med. 1990; 20: 61–76.
Webster JP, Ellis WA, Macdonald DW. Prevalence of Leptospira spp. in wild brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) on UK farms. Epidemiol Infect. 1995; 144: 195–201.
Ward MP, Glickman LT, Guptill LE. Prevalence of and risk factors for leptospirosis among dogs in the United States and Canada: 677 cases (1970–1998). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002; 220: 53–58.
Geier-Doemling D, Heil-Franke G, Mueller E. The prevalence of serum antibodies against some Leptospira in dogs. Kleintierpraxis 2003; 12: 755–758.
Francey T. Canine leptospirosis and its challenges. Proceedings of the 35 th World Small Animal Vet Assoc Congress; Jun 4 – 5 2010; Geneva, Switzerland.
Ananyina YV. Human leptospirosis in Russia: epidemiological trends across two decades. Proceedings of the European Meeting of Leptospirosis Eurolepto 2012; 31 May – 2 June 2012; Dubrovnik; Croatia.
Espi A, Prieto JM, Fernandez M, Alvarez M. Serological prevalence of six leptospiral serovars in cattle in Asturias (Northern Spain). Epidemiol Infect. 2000; 124: 599–602.
Krawczyk M. Serological evidence of leptospirosis in animals in northern Poland. Vet Rec. 2005; 156: 88–89 (in Polish).
Lange S. Seroepidemiological studies of the detection of leptospires of the sejroe group in cattle in middle Thuringia. Berl Munch Tierarzt Wochenschr. 1992; 105: 374–377.
Boqvist S, Eliasson-Selling L, Bergström K, Magnusson U. The association between rainfall and seropositivity to Leptospira and outdoor reared pigs. Vet J. 2012; 193(1): 135–9.
Wasiński B, Pejsak Z. Occurrence of leptospiral infections in swine population in Poland evaluated by ELISA and microscopic agglutination test. Pol J Vet Sci. 2010; 13: 695–699.
Schönberg A, Staak C, Kampe U. Leptospirosis in West Germany. Results of a research program in leptospirosis in animals in the year 1984. Zentralbl Veterinarmed B 1987; 34: 98–108.
Krawczyk M. Serological studies on leptospirosis in sheep. Med Wet. 1999; 55: 397–399 (in Polish).
Vojinovic D, Zutic J, Stanojevic S. Seroprevalence of leptospirosis in horses in the territory of Belgrade during the period from 1998 to 2008. Vet Glast. 2009; 63: 163–169.
Arent ZJ, Kędzierska-Mieszkowska S. Seroprevalence study of leptospirosis in horses in northern Poland. Vet Rec. 2013; 172: 269.
Jansen A, Luge E, Guerra B, Wittschen P, Grber AD, Loddenkemper D et al. Leptospirosis in urban wild boars, Berlin, Germany. Emerg Infect Dis. 2007; 13: 739–742.
Schönberg A, Lutz W, Kämpe U. Investigation of serum samples of wild boar (Sus scrofa L. 1758) for leptospirosis. Z Jagdwiss. 1999; 45: 262–265.
Krawczyk M. Serological studies on leptospirosis in wild boars. Med Wet. 2000; 56: 440–443.
Muller H, Winkler P. Results of serological studies of Leptospira antibodies in foxes. Berl Munch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 1994; 107: 90–93.
Burgdorfer W. The possible role of ticks as vectors of leptospirae. I. Transmission of Leptospira pomona by the argasid tick, Ornithodoros turicata, and the persistence of this organism in its tissues. Exp Parasitol. 1956; 5: 571–579.
Burgdorfer W. The possible role of ticks as vectors of Leptospirae. II. Infection of the ixodid ticks, Dermacentor andersoni and Amblyomma maculatum, with Leptospira pomona. Exp Parasitol. 1959; 8: 502–508.
Krepkogorskaya TA, Rementsova MM. Isolation of Leptospira strains from the ticks Dermacentor marginatus S. collected from cattle. Zh Mikrobiol Epidemiol Immunobiol. 1957; 28(2):93–94 (in Russian).
Wójcik-Fatla A, Zając V, Cisak E, Sroka J, Sawczyn A, Dutkiewicz J. Leptospirosis as a tick-borne disease? Detection of Leptospira spp. in Ixodes ricinus ticks from eastern Poland. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2012; 19: 656–659.
Monahan AM, Miller SI, Nally JE. Leptospirosis: risks during recreational activities. J Appl Microbiol. 2009; 107: 707–716.
Levett PN. Leptospirosis. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2001; 14: 296–326.
Morgan J, Bornstain SL, Karpati AM, Bruce M, Bolin CA, Austin CC et al. Outbreak of leptospirosis among triathlon participants and community residents in Springfield, Illinois, 1998. Clin Infect Dis. 2002; 34: 1593–1599.
Abb J. Acute leptospirosis in a triathlete. Wilderness Environ Med. 2002; 13: 45–47.
Brockmann S, Piechotowski I, Bock-Hansley O, Winter C, Oehme R, Zimmerman S et al. Outbreak of leptospirosis among triathlon participants in Germany, 2006. BCM Infectious Diseases 2010; 10: 91.
Radl C, Muller M, Revilla-Fernandez S, Karner-Zuser S, de Martin A, Schauer U et al. Outbreak of leptospirosis among triathlon participants in Langau, Austria. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2011; 123: 751–755.
Tunbridge AJ, Dockrell DH, Channer KS, McKendrick MW. A breathless triathlete. Lancet 2002; 359: 130.
Sejvar J, Bancroft E, Winthrop K, Bettinger J, Bajani M, Bragg S et al. Leptospirosis in “Eco Challenge” athletes, Malaysian Borneo, 2000. Emerg Infect Dis. 2003; 9: 702–707.
Grobusch MP, Bollmann R, Schönberg A, Slevogt H, Garcia V, Teichmann D, et al. Leptospirosis in travelers returning from Dominican Republic. J Travel Med. 2003; 10: 55–58.
Tropical Medical Bureau. Caution given for leptospirosis in French lake at-St-Jean-de-la-Porte. (access: 2013.03.13).
Shaw RD. Kayaking as a risk factor for leptospirosis. Mo Med. 1992; 89: 354–357.
Boland M, Sayers G, Coleman T, Bergin C, Sheehan N, Creamer E, et al. A cluster of leptospirosis cases in canoeists following a competition on the River Liffey. Epidemiol Infect. 2004; 132: 195–200.
Niścigorska J, Morańska I, Kruszewski T, Boroń-Kaczmarska I. Leptospirosis in West Pomeranian district in Poland. Adv Agric Sci. 2004; 9: 69–71.
Self CA, Iskrzynska WI, Waitkins SA, Whicher JW, Whicher JT. Leptospirosis among British cavers. Cave Sci. 1987; 14: 131–134.
ProMED-mail. Leptospirosis–Belgium: (Luxembourg) Boys Scouts, Muskrat. (access: 2013.03.13).
Zitek K, Benes C. Longitudinal epidemiology of leptospirosis in Czech Republic. Epidemiol Mikrobiol Immunol. 2005; 54: 21–26.
National Institute of Hygiene, National Research Center of Public Health. Annual report 1997 on cases of infectious diseases and toxic effects of chemical substances notified in 1997. (access: 2013.03.13).
Journals System - logo
Scroll to top