What is the historical background on leptospirosis?

Updated: Jul 08, 2021
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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In ancient China, a disease that was certainly leptospirosis was recognized as an occupational hazard of rice harvesters. In Japan, leptospirosis was called akiyami, or autumn fever, a term still used for this disease. [13]

In the West, leptospirosis was described by Larrey in 1812 as fièvre jaune among Napoleon's troops at the siege of Cairo. The disease was initially believed to be related to the plague but not as contagious. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, leptospirosis was known in Europe as bilious typhoid.

Leptospirosis was recognized as an occupational disease of sewer workers in 1883. In 1886, Adolph Weil published his historic paper describing the most severe form of leptospirosis that would be later known as Weil disease. Weil described the clinical manifestations in 4 men who had severe jaundice, fever, and hemorrhage with renal involvement. [14]

In 1907, Stimson used special staining techniques in the postmortem examination of a kidney from a person with Weil disease and found a spiral organism with hooked ends, which was named Spirochaeta interrogans because its shape resembled that of a question mark. Inada et al identified the causal agent of infectious jaundice in Japan in 1916, naming the organism Spirochaeta icterohaemorrhagiae. [14]

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