How is leptospirosis transmitted?

Updated: Jul 08, 2021
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Leptospira species infect a wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Part of its life cycle is a chronic carrier state in some animals, in which the leptospires spread hematogenously, colonize the proximal renal tubules, and are shed via urine into the environment. This may be fairly asymptomatic such that the animal becomes a chronic carrier and environmental reservoir. Humans can shed leptospires for only a limited time and are therefore considered accidental hosts. Rats, dogs, and ungulates, however, can chronically shed leptospires. The organism is typically transmitted via exposure of mucous membranes or abraded skin to the body fluid of an acutely infected animal or by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of a chronic carrier.

Occupational exposure probably accounts for 30-50% of human cases of leptospirosis. The main occupational groups at risk include farm workers, veterinarians, pet shop owners, field agricultural workers, abattoir workers, plumbers, meat handlers and slaughterhouse workers, coal miners, workers in the fishing industry, military troops, milkers, and sewer workers.

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