Risk factors for human acute leptospirosis in northern Tanzania

Michael J. Maze , Shama Cash-Goldwasser, Matthew P. Rubach, Holly M. Biggs, Renee L. Galloway, Katrina J. Sharples, Kathryn J. Allan, Jo E. B. Halliday, Sarah Cleaveland, Michael C. Shand, Charles Muiruri, Rudovick R. Kazwala, Wilbrod Saganda, Bingileki F. Lwezaula, Blandina T. Mmbaga, Venance P. Maro, John A. Crump
Publication year: 


Leptospirosis is a major cause of febrile illness in Africa but little is known about risk factors for human infection. We conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate risk factors for acute leptospirosis and Leptospira seropositivity among patients with fever attending referral hospitals in northern Tanzania.


We enrolled patients with fever from two referral hospitals in Moshi, Tanzania, 2012–2014, and performed Leptospira microscopic agglutination testing on acute and convalescent serum. Cases of acute leptospirosis were participants with a four-fold rise in antibody titers, or a single reciprocal titer ≥800. Seropositive participants required a single titer ≥100, and controls had titers <100 in both acute and convalescent samples. We administered a questionnaire to assess risk behaviors over the preceding 30 days. We created cumulative scales of exposure to livestock urine, rodents, and surface water, and calculated odds ratios (OR) for individual behaviors and for cumulative exposure variables.


We identified 24 acute cases, 252 seropositive participants, and 592 controls. Rice farming (OR 14.6), cleaning cattle waste (OR 4.3), feeding cattle (OR 3.9), farm work (OR 3.3), and an increasing cattle urine exposure score (OR 1.2 per point) were associated with acute leptospirosis.


In our population, exposure to cattle and rice farming were risk factors for acute leptospirosis. Although further data is needed, these results suggest that cattle may be an important source of human leptospirosis. Further investigation is needed to explore the potential for control of livestock Leptospira infection to reduce human disease.