How are Leptospira classified?

Updated: Jul 08, 2021
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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The nomenclature system used to organize leptospires has been revised, making review of the literature often confusing. The traditional system divided the genus into 2 species: the pathogenic Leptospira interrogans and the nonpathogenic Leptospira biflexa. These species were divided further into serogroups, serovars, and strains based on shared antigens. L interrogans included more than 250 serovars.

The current classification system is based on DNA homology and recognizes the heterogeneity of the classic leptospires, dividing L interrogans and L biflexa into 20 named species. [22] Within these species, leptospires are further grouped by serogroups, serovars, and strains on the basis of microscopic agglutination testing (MAT).

Serologic grouping may, however, cross DNA-based species boundaries, and both pathogenic and nonpathogenic serovars may be found within the same species. There exist hundreds of serovars, and although certain species (eg, L interrogans) have a classic association with Weil disease, knowledge of the species type does not necessarily help predict disease severity.

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