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Abstract

Seroprevalence and risk factors for Leptospira seropositivity in beef cattle, sheep and deer farmers in New Zealand.

Abstract

Leptospirosis is a global zoonosis that in New Zealand affects primarily people occupationally exposed to livestock. The objective of this study was to estimate the seroprevalence of five Leptospira serovars in farmers working on cattle, sheep and deer farms that had the serological status of animals previously assessed and to identify risk factors for farmer seropositivity. A total of 178 farmers from 127 properties participated in the study. Blood samples were tested using the microscopic agglutination test (MAT) for the presence of antibodies to Leptospira. Samples with a MAT titre ≥48 were considered seropositive. Using Bayesian statistical analysis, the median seroprevalence of Leptospira, all serovars combined, was estimated to be 6.6% (95% probability interval (PI) 3.6-10.9%). Risk factors associated with seropositivity were assisting deer or cattle calving, farming deer, having ≥25% of flat terrain and high abundance of wild deer on farm, while high possum abundance on farm was negatively associated with seropositivity. No association was observed between farmer serostatus and previously recorded livestock serology. Leptospira seropositivity was associated with influenza-like illness of farmers (RR=1.7; 95% PI 1.0-2.5). Assuming a causal relationship, this suggested an annual risk of 1.3% (95% PI 0.0-3.0%) of influenza-like illnesses due to Leptospira infection in the population of farmers. The association between seropositivity and disease can be used to estimate the public health burden of leptospirosis in New Zealand. Identifying and understanding risk factors for Leptospira seropositivity can inform preventive measures, hence contributing to the reduction of leptospirosis incidence in farmers.