Rat trade and leptospirosis: molecular epidemiology of Leptospira species in rats exported from Cambodia to Vietnam.
Rats are an important maintenance host of Leptospira spp., the causative agents of leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease with worldwide distribution. Rats are traded as food in the Mekong Delta, where Cambodia exports tons of rats to Vietnam. Handling wild rats is a potential health risk, but the information on Leptospira spp. carried by rats traded in the region remains limited. In this study, we investigated the carriage of Leptospira spp. in rats exported from Cambodia to Vietnam using bacterial culture, nested PCR and DNA sequencing. Isolates were then assessed using serological analysis and whole-genome sequencing (WGS), and Leptospira DNA detected in rat kidney tissues was also analysed by multilocus sequence typing (MLST). Seventy-two rats (2 Bandicota indica, 57 Rattus argentiventer, 11 R. losea, 1 R. norvegicus and 1 R. rattus) were subjected to bacterial culture, and three L. borgpetersenii serogroup Javanica isolates were obtained from R. argentiventer (5.3%). WGS revealed that although Cambodian isolates were genetically related to L. borgpetersenii serogroup Javanica strains widely distributed in East and South-East Asian countries, they formed a different cluster from other strains. In addition to the three L. borgpetersenii sequences, the flaB sequence of L. interrogans was detected in 18 R. argentiventer and 7 R. losea kidney tissue samples (38.9%) using nested PCR followed by DNA sequencing. The L. interrogans flaB-positive samples were further analysed by MLST, revealing that seven housekeeping genes (glmU, pntA, sucA, tpiA, pfkB, mreA and caiB) contained novel sequences with distinct lineages from other sequence types. This study revealed a high prevalence of Leptospira spp. among rats exported from Cambodia to Vietnam, indicating a potential risk to people engaging in rat trade and demonstrating that a fastidious L. interrogans strain circulates among Cambodian rats.