Leptospirosis in Tanzania; a study of the role of rodents in an emerging public health problem

Sarah Cleaveland & Kathryn Allan (Wellcome Trust Veterinary Training Fellow, funded by this application)

In East Africa, fever is the most common reason for hospital attendance. Treatment has often been based on the assumption that most of these patients have malaria, but recent studies in Tanzania indicate that other infections, including many carried by animals (zoonoses) are more important than previously realised.

Leptospirosis, a serious bacterial zoonosis, has been diagnosed in 9% of febrile patients admitted to two hospitals in northern Tanzania. Questions still remain about this infection which can be spread through direct contact with urine from an infected animal or through contamination of food and water sources.

This project aims to investigate how animal infection patterns are related to human disease risk by studying leptospirosis in rodents and cattle in an area of Tanzania where human disease is also being closely monitored. Molecular diagnostic tools will be used to improve detection of leptospirosis in humans, to determine infection patterns in rodents and cattle in local communities, and to identify Leptospira strain types in these linked populations. Surveys will be conducted to identify household and farming factors associated with infection incidence in both people and animals.

The results from the study will assist in developing strategies for the effective management, prevention and control of this important but neglected human disease.