What is the role of vaccines in the prevention of leptospirosis in humans and animals?

Updated: Jul 08, 2021
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Vaccines exist for animals and humans but are not necessarily available in all areas. For example, vaccines may be offered to high-risk workers in some European and Asian countries (eg, rice workers in Italy) but are not available to US short-term travelers to endemic areas. No leptospirosis vaccine is available for human use in the United States, but there are vaccines for animals (pets and agricultural). Because of the heterogeneity in Leptospira serovars that cause disease in different host species, different polyvalent vaccines are given depending on exposure type and geography. They may not protect against all the serovars that may be prevalent, and new serovars may be introduced over time.

Leptospirosis vaccines are also associated with significant adverse effects. Live attenuated vaccines for dogs have been associated with reversion of the attenuated strain to virulence, with associated chronic shedding of infectious leptospires and transmission to humans. Most vaccines in use for several decades are thus killed whole-cell bacterin vaccines. Depending on the vaccine, duration may range from 1-3 years, with variable efficacy. Recombinant protein vaccines and DNA vaccines that introduce chronic antigen production into the host via plasmid offer hope for effective immunization across multiple serovars.

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