Scientists Discover a Novel Leptospira Strain That Might Cause Leptospirosis in Humans  

The researchers from Malaysia have discovered two new strains of “Leptospira” a bacterial genus and some members of this genus could cause leptospirosis infection. One of these newly identified strains is highly capable of causing leptospirosis in humans.

Typically, humans get leptospirosis from wild animals such as rats, cats, pigs, etc. sometimes it is asymptomatic but other times it causes fever, organ failure, and sometimes meningitis as well. This disease is highly prevalent in tropical countries as well as subtropical areas.

There are nearly 64 strains in Leptosspira which are isolated and identified from the human, animal, and environmental sources. Among all these isolates, L. interrogans, L. kirschneri, and L. wolffii in Malaysia are responsible for causing the majority of infections.

This new study has identified a novel strain named “L.interrogans” which is capable of causing infection in humans.

Vasantha Kumari Neela from the Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia is the lead researcher and first author of this study.

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She shared that initially her team only intended to study how the patients experience severe symptoms and what causes it. Their aim was to identify the biomarkers for leptospirosis disease in humans. However, they studied the efficacy of the currently available diagnostic tests and emphasized on the need for new diagnostic tools. The research results prove that the currently available methods are not 100% accurate to diagnose the infection. Also, the symptoms of leptospirosis are much likely to get mixed with the symptoms of other diseases i.e. dengue. It suggests researchers develop new diagnostic tools to identify and treat leptospirosis in humans.

This study is published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Neela says that most of these cases of leptospirosis infection in humans are co-linked with their interaction with forests, camping, floods, or exposure to rodents.  She also told that currently there is no vaccination of leptospirosis available in Malaysia. However, the prophylaxis is available for highly susceptible groups that include the military.

This new study has highlighted the potential sources for getting leptospirosis infection and also explained who is at high risk of getting it in Malaysia. It has also put forward the need for a new diagnostic tool, and symptoms evaluation as per the newly identified strain so that maximum people are saved from leptospirosis infection.

Neela said; this new research raises a question for everyone that rodents, that are originally thought of causing leptospirosis are not the only host to transmit this bacteria infection.

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Kamruddin Ahmed from the Department of Pathobiology and Medical Diagnostics and director of the Borneo Medical and Health Research Centre also shared his views on this new study. He said that identifying and treating leptospirosis is a huge problem in Malaysia and he thinks there are many other countries as well who share this common problem.

Ahmed believes that there should be more focused studies on understanding leptospirosis and also shared that; “There is no user-friendly, reliable, and economic diagnostics for the disease. Furthermore, clinical diagnosis is disappointing as the signs and symptoms of leptospirosis vary considerably with the result that many cases go unnoticed and mortality becomes high.”

This new study is highly significant because it confirms that  L. interrogans and L. kirschneri are the main culprits behind leptospirosis infections in the Central Malaysian region but there exists a regional difference in these strains as well.

Ahmed says that there should be more detailed research studies to understand the epidemiology of Leptospira infection in humans. Only with these focused studies, the researchers would be able to set better diagnostic tools and develop a vaccine against it.