Leptospira spp are associated with renal and reproductive disorders and are of economic impact to both beef and dairy cattle industries and is a zoonotic disease in humans. Although over 200 serovars of Leptospira spp have been recognized, a number of species have been regularly associated with disease in cattle, including:
- L. pomona
- L. hardjo - most common
- L. grippotyphosa
- L. interrogans
- L. bratislava
- L. icterohaemorrhagiae
- L. canicola
Leptospires have a predilection for moist environments and infect cattle through ingestion of contaminated grass. They acquire access to the host via penetration of damaged mucous membranes or skin. One to three weeks later, leptospires can be seen in circulation, following which they replicate in the liver, kidneys, lungs, genital tract, and nervous system. After this period of bacteremia, most cattle eliminate the bacteria, but some cattle remain maintenance hosts, with bacteria remaining in the renal tubules, genital tract and, more rarely, the eyes for up to many years.
Most cases of leptospirosis remain subclinical, although some cattle present with fever and signs associate with acute nephritis. In subacute cases, severe bacteremias may result in hemolytic anemia, hemoglobinuria, jaundice, pulmonary congestion, occasionally meningitis, and death.
In carrier cattle, infertility, abortion and stillbirths are common. Drops in milk yield are reported in dairy herds.
A suspicion of Leptospirosis can be made from historical evidence of the disease within the district, supported by clinical findings of stillbirths, abortions, low milk yields, serological titres and the presence of Leptospira spp cultured from milk, urine or placenta.
Antibody titers >1:800 in placental tissue, cow blood or foetal tissue at the time of abortion is considered evidence of leptospirosis. Immunofluorescence, ELISA and PCR testing of bovine urine are considered definitive methods of confirming leptospirosis in cattle. Interference with some ELISA assays does occur in previously vaccinated cattle.
Annual vaccinations with pentavalent vaccines are an effective method of control in herds where leptospirosis is endemic.
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- Merck Vet Manual
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