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Selected content from the Animal Health and Production Compendium (© CAB International 2013). Distributed under license by African Union – Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources.

Whilst this information is provided by experts, we advise that users seek veterinary advice where appropriate and check OIE manuals for recent changes to regulations, diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments.

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Identity    Pathogen/s    Overview    Distribution    Distribution Map for Africa    Distribution Table for Africa    Hosts/Species Affected    Host Animals    Systems Affected    Epidemiology    Zoonoses and Food Safety    Disease Course    Disease Treatment    Prevention and Control    References    Links to Websites    OIE Reference Experts and Laboratories



Preferred Scientific Name
International Common Names
leptospirosis in cattle, leptospirosis in sheep and goats, leptospirosis in swine, redwater of calves




Leptospira borgpetersenii
Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar hardjo
Leptospira hardjo
Leptospira interrogans
Leptospira kirschneri
Leptospira pomona




Leptospires are motile bacteria with hook-shaped ends, and internal flagella. They can be found in aquatic environments and are sensitive to desiccation. They are Gram-negative, do not stain well, but can be visualized using dark-field microscopy. Leptospires in tissues can be detected by silver impregnation and immunological staining techniques. Leptospirosis can affect all domestic animals and humans, and can vary in severity from mild infections of the urinary or genital tract to serious systemic disease. They are usually excreted in urine. Leptospirosis is a serious zoonotic disease.

Leptospira has several pathogenic species, including Leptospira kirschneri, Leptospira interrogans, Leptospira noguchii, Leptospira borgpetersenii, Leptospira santarosai and Leptospira weilii. These species are divided into over 250 different serovars in 23 different serogroups. Serologically similar leptospires can belong to different species; for example, serovar hardjo belongs to two species interrogans and borgpetersenii, because common surface antigens are shared by the two species which are genetically separate.

This disease is on the list of diseases notifiable to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The distribution section contains data from OIE's WAHID database on disease occurrence. Please see the AHPC library for further information on this disease from OIE, including the International Animal Health Code and the Manual of Standards for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines. Also see the website:




For current information on disease incidence, see OIE's WAHID Interface.



Distribution Map for Africa

Distribution Map for AfricaDistribution Map for Africa

present, no further details = Present, no further details    widespread = Widespread    localised = Localised
confined and subject to quarantine = Confined and subject to quarantine    occasional or few reports = Occasional or few reports
evidence of pathogen = Evidence of pathogen    last reported = Last reported...    presence unconfirmed = Presence unconfirmed



 Distribution Table for Africa

The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further information for individual references may be available in the Animal Health and Production Compendium. A table for worldwide distribution can also be found in the Animal Health and Production Compendium.

CountryDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferencesNotes
AlgeriaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
AngolaLast reported2006   OIE, 2012 
BeninNo information available    OIE, 2009 
BotswanaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
Burkina FasoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
BurundiNo information available    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
CameroonNo information available    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
Cape VerdeNo information available    OIE, 2012 
Central African RepublicDisease not reported    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
ChadNo information available    OIE, 2009 
ComorosDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
CongoAbsent, reported but not confirmed    OIE, 2009 
Congo Democratic RepublicDisease not reported    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
Côte d'IvoireDisease not reported    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
DjiboutiDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
EgyptDisease never reported    OIE, 2012 
EritreaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
EthiopiaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
GabonPresent    OIE, 2012 
GambiaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
GhanaDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
GuineaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
Guinea-BissauNo information available    OIE, 2009 
KenyaDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
LesothoDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
LibyaDisease not reported    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
MadagascarPresent    OIE, 2012 
MalawiAbsent, reported but not confirmed    OIE, 2012 
MaliNo information available    OIE, 2009 
MauritiusDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
MoroccoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
MozambiqueDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
NamibiaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
NigeriaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
RéunionReported present or known to be present    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
RwandaDisease never reported    OIE, 2009 
Sao Tome and PrincipeNo information available    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
SenegalNo information available    OIE, 2009 
SeychellesReported present or known to be present    OIE, 2012 
Sierra LeoneDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
SomaliaNo information available    OIE Handistatus, 2005 
South AfricaPresent    OIE, 2009 
SudanDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
SwazilandNo information available    OIE, 2009 
TanzaniaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
TogoDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
TunisiaDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 
UgandaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
ZambiaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
ZimbabweDisease not reported    OIE, 2012 



 Hosts/Species Affected

In maintenance hosts the disease is often mild or latent, and there is prolonged excretion of the leptospires in urine. Other species that become infected are termed incidental hosts. Incidental hosts are usually less susceptible to infection, develop more severe disease, and are less efficient transmitters of the leptospire to other hosts. The following table shows the maintenance and incidental hosts for serovars of Leptospira interrogans:

SerovarMaintenance hostsIncidental hosts
pomonapigs, cattlesheep, horses, dogs
icterohaemorrhagiaebrown rathumans, domestic animals
grippotyphosarodentscattle, pigs, horses, dogs
canicoladogspigs, cattle
bratislavapigs, hedgehogshorses, dogs

The main causes of leptospirosis in pigs and ruminants are the following serovars of L. interrogans:

SerovarHostsClinical signs
pomonacattle, sheepacute haemolytic disease in calves and lambs; abortion
"pigsreproductive failure; septicaemia in piglets
icterohaemorrhagiaecattle, sheep, pigsabortion; acute haemolytic disease in calves and lambs
grippotyphosacattle, pigsabortion; septicaemic disease in young animals
canicolapigsabortion/stillbirth; kidney disease in young pigs
bratislavapigsabortion, reproductive failure, stillbirth
tarassovipigsabortion, stillbirth, abortion
hardjo*cattle, sheepabortion, stillbirth, agalactiae, mastitis

* Serovar hardjo can be of Leptospira interrogans or Leptospira borgpetersenii. Some authors claim recently that Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar hardjo is the commonest cause of bovine leptospirosis, whereas earlier literature considers that Leptospira interrogans serovar hardjo is the commoner cause (Naiman et al., 2001).



Host Animals

Animal name Context 
Bos indicus (zebu) Domesticated host 
Bos taurus (cattle) Domesticated host 
Camelus dromedarius (dromedary camel) Domesticated host 
Canis familiaris (dogs) Domesticated host 
Capra hircus (goats) Domesticated host 
Homo sapiens Wild host 
Lama glama (llamas) Domesticated host 
Lama pacos (alpacas) Domesticated host 
Ovis aries (sheep) Domesticated host 
Phoca vitulina  
Sus scrofa (pigs) Domesticated host 



Systems Affected

Reproductive - Large Ruminants
Reproductive - Pigs
Reproductive - Small Ruminants
Urinary - Large Ruminants
Urinary - Pigs
Urinary - Small Ruminants




Cattle that recover from leptospirosis may become carriers and shed the organism in their urine. The organism can colonize the kidneys and cause nephritis and lead to excretion of the bacteria in urine (Yener and Keles, 2001). Cattle can shed leptospirosis in the urine for over 12 months.

If the urine is passed into an environment favourable to the bacteria, for example into moist, shaded areas with moderate temperatures, the bacteria can survive for a number of weeks. Survival in the environment can also be extended if the bacterium is picked up by carrier animals (rats, wild pigs, bandicoots, etc.) which can then re-infect the herd with their urine. Leptospires are able to penetrate the membranes of the mouth, nose, eyes and broken skin. Muddy areas around water troughs, water holes and dams are sites of infection. Pigs can act as long-term carriers of serovars pomona and tarassovi. Therefore leptospirosis is more likely on mixed dairy-pig properties or when feral pigs are present. As well as transmission via urine, sexual transmission is an important source of infection (Heinemann et al., 2000).



Zoonoses and Food Safety

Leptospirosis presents an important zoonotic risk to people working closely with pigs.



Disease Course

Disease in Cattle

Acute leptospirosis is seen mainly in calves. They show signs of fever, anorexia, pass red urine, are jaundiced and many die within 3 to 5 days. Survivors are usually unthrifty for the rest of their lives. Decreased reproductive performance can also indicate the presence of leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can cause stillbirths and abortions in late pregnancy. A cow may show no signs of illness before or after the abortion or stillbirth. Leptospirosis can decrease a calf drop by 40% or more during a bad epidemic. Mastitis may also be caused by leptospirosis. Cows show signs of fever and depression and go off their feed. The udder is flaccid in all four quarters and milk yield decreases. Milk is yellowish and may contain red flecks but usually returns to normal in 4 to 5 days, full production being restored after 2 to 3 weeks. Within a herd where there are cases of acute leptospiral mastitis, a large number of cows will show no signs of disease, but will have a fall in milk production. Several weeks later these cows may then abort.

Cattle that recover may become carriers and shed the organism in their urine. The organism can colonize the kidneys and cause nephritis and lead to excretion of the bacteria in urine (Yener and Keles, 2001; for further discussion, see Epidemiology section).

Leptospira pomona and L. hardjo can cause localized renal infections in young animals, leading to diarrhoea, anaemia, haemoglobinuria and abortion. The kidneys are swollen, with multi-focal petechial and ecchymotic haemorrhages that become pale with time. The liver may be swollen, with minute areas of focal necrosis. Petechial haemorrhages in other organs are seen in fulminating cases, however, in the more prevalent Leptospira hardjo infections, the lesions are primarily restricted to the kidneys.

Disease in Pigs

Leptospirosis in pigs causes reproductive losses in breeding herds throughout the world. Losses are due to abortion, stillbirths, weak piglets, and reduced fertility. Pigs are maintenance hosts for serovars of the pomona, australis and tarassovi serogroups, while strains of serogroups canicola, icterohaemorrhagiae, and grippotyphosa are often incidental infections. The most important serovar in pigs is pomona, which is found worldwide. Other serovars found in pigs are tarrassovi, bratislava, canicola, copenhageni, and icterohaemorrhagiae.



Disease Treatment

Treatment includes antibiotic therapy. Administration of streptomycin, chlortetracycline or oxytetracycline in the early stages of infection reduces the number of leptospires in the tissues and the amount of excreted organisms.



Prevention and Control

It is possible to eradicate leptospirosis from infected farms by a combination of vaccination, diagnostic tests, drugs and improved hygiene and biosecurity. The greatest threat to eradication schemes is the introduction of infected animals and contact with infected rodents or wild animals (including contact with feral pigs). Vaccination against leptospirosis is common in pigs and cattle. Most vaccines are formalin inactivated, and contain one or more serovars, with aluminium hydroxide adjuvant. Pregnant cows should be vaccinated promptly with killed vaccine. All cattle aged more than 6 months should be vaccinated, with a booster, after 4 weeks. Cows should have an annual booster at mid-pregnancy or at drying off. A monovalent vaccine against Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar hardjo can prevent it colonising the kidneys and greatly reduce excretion of the bacteria (Bolin and Alt, 2001).

For pig farms, control depends on combined use of antibiotic therapy, vaccination, and husbandry (including strict biosecurity with rodent control). Outbreaks should be controlled with streptomycin at 25 mg/kg, and vaccination of at-risk stock, followed by a vaccination programme. If vaccination is not possible, a programme of medicated feed (chlortetracycline or oxytetracycline 600-800g/ton of feed) fed continuously or 'one month on one month off', can be used (Ellis, 1999)




African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, 2011. Panafrican Animal Health Yearbook 2011. Pan African Animal Health Yearbook, 2011:xiii + 90 pp.

Bolin CA, Alt DP, 2001. Use of a monovalent leptospiral vaccine to prevent renal colonization and urinary shedding in cattle exposed to Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar hardjo. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 62(7):995-1000; 38 ref.

Ellis WA, 1999. Leptospirosis. In: Diseases of swine, 8th edition. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science, 483-354.

Heinemann MB, Garcia JF, Nunes CM, Gregori F, Higa ZMM, Vasconcellos SA, Richtzenhain LJ, 2000. Detection and differentiation of Leptospira spp. serovars in bovine semen by polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length polymorphism. Veterinary Microbiology, 73(4):261-267; 15 ref.

Naiman BM, Alt D, Bolin CA, Zuerner R, Baldwin CL, 2001. Protective killed Leptospira borgpetersenii vaccine induces potent Th1 immunity comprising responses by CD4 and gammadelta T lymphocytes. Infection and Immunity, 69(12):7550-7558.

OIE Handistatus, 2002. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (dataset for 2001). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE Handistatus, 2003. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (dataset for 2002). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE Handistatus, 2004. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (data set for 2003). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE, 2005. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (data set for 2004). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE, 2009. World Animal Health Information Database - Version: 1.4. World Animal Health Information Database. Paris, France: World Organisation for Animal Health.

OIE, 2012. World Animal Health Information Database. Version 2. World Animal Health Information Database. Paris, France: World Organisation for Animal Health.

Radostits OM, Blood DC, Gay CC, 1994. Diseases caused by Leptospira. In: Veterinary Medicine: a textbook of the diseases of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses. London, UK: Bailliere Tindall, 884-898.

Yener Z, Keles H, 2001. Immunoperoxidase and histopathological examinations of leptospiral nephritis in cattle. Journal of Veterinary Medicine A, Physiology Pathology Clinical Medicine, 48(7):441-447.

Zaki SR, Shieh WJ, 1996. .



Links to Websites



OIE Reference Experts and Laboratories

(, accessed 5 June 2013)

Sra. Jessica Petrakovsky (1)
Laboratorio de Leptospirosis
Dirección General de Laboratorios y Control Técnico
Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASA)
Avenida Talcahuano N° 1660 (1640)
Martínez, Pcia de Buenos Aires
Tel: +54-11 int 287 o 299 Fax: +54-11 int 288
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Luis Samartino (2)
Instituto de Bacteriología
Castelar, Casilla de Correo 77
Morón 1708
Pcia de Buenos Aires
Tel: +54-11 46 21 12 89 Fax: +54-11 46 21 17 12
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Lee Smythe
Queensland Health Scientific Services
39 Kessels Road
Coopers Plains
P.O. Box 594
Archefield, Queensland 4108
Tel: +61-7 32 74 90 64 Fax: +61-7 32 74 01 75
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Rudy Hartskeerl
Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)
N.H. Swellengrebel Laboratory of Tropical Hygiene
Division of Health
Department of Biomedical Research
Meibergdreef 39
1105 AZ Amsterdam
Tel: +31-20 566 54 38 Fax: +31-20 697 18 41
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr William A. Ellis
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Department of Agriculture
Veterinary Sciences Division
Stoney Road
Belfast BT4 3SD
Northern Ireland
Tel: +44-2890 51 94 41 Fax: +44-2890 52 57 55
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Mark Wilson
National Veterinary Services Laboratories
USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services
P.O. Box 844
Ames, Iowa 50010
Tel: +1-515 337.73.42 Fax: +1-515 337.75.69
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Date of report: 03/06/2013

© CAB International 2013. Distributed under license by African Union – Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.