Environmental exposure and leptospirosis, Peru

Citation metadata

From: Emerging Infectious Diseases(Vol. 10, Issue 6)
Publisher: U.S. National Center for Infectious Diseases
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,917 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

Human infection by leptospires has highly variable clinical manifestations, which range from subclinical infection to fulminant disease. We conducted a population-based, cross-sectional seroepidemiologic study in Peru to determine potential relationships of environmental context to human exposure to Leptospira and disease associated with seroconversion. Three areas were studied: a flooded, urban slum in the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos; rural, peri-Iquitos villages; and a desert shantytown near Lima. Seroprevalence in Belen was 28% (182/650); in rural areas, 17% (52/316); and in a desert shantytown, 0.7% (1/150). Leptospira-infected peridomestic rats were found in all locales. In Belen, 20 (12.4%) of 161 patients seroconverted between dry and wet seasons (an incidence rate of 288/1,000). Seroconversion was associated with history of febrile illness; severe leptospirosis was not seen. Human exposure to Leptospira in the Iquitos region is high, likely related both to the ubiquity of leptospires in the environment and human behavior conducive to transmission from infected zoonotic sources.


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease of global importance (1-5) that occurs in both urban and rural settings (2,6-8) and causes both endemic and epidemic illness, including pulmonary hemorrhage and death (7,9-11). Transmission of Leptospira and the clinical expression of leptospirosis seem to vary in different environmental and socioeconomic contexts. Epidemic leptospirosis associated with pulmonary hemorrhage, renal failure, and jaundice seems to predominate in the urban setting, where baseline clinical immunity in humans is likely to vary (7,8,12-15). In contrast, a substantial prevalence of seropositivity associated with subclinical leptospiral infection has been shown in many rural places throughout the developing world, including, for example, Nicaragua (16).

The environment of Iquitos, Peru, in the Amazon Basin, is ideal for the transmission of Leptospira with its hot, humid tropical conditions and dense human and potential mammalian reservoir populations (17). We have observed that [approximately equal to] 30% of patients in this region seen with acute undifferentiated fever have serologic results suggestive of acute leptospirosis (microscopic agglutination test with titers >1/400, seroconversion, or fourfold rise in titer; Vinetz et al. unpub, data).

Our objective was to determine potential relationships of environmental context to human exposure to Leptospira. A cross-sectional, population-based seroepidemiologic study was conducted in three contrasting epidemiologic contexts in Peru, where leptospirosis transmission would be predicted to be high (Belen, an urban slum in Iquitos), intermediate (rural peri-Iquitos villages), and low (the Pampas de San Juan de Miraflores, a desert shantytown outside of Lima). Peridomestic rats, one potentially important source of leptospiral transmission, were also surveyed for the leptospiral carrier state to assess their potential for transmission.

Patients and Methods

Study Sites

Iquitos, Loreto, is located in the Amazon rainforest of northeastern Peru. Its environment is tropical: rainfall averages 288 cm/year; temperatures range from 21.8[degrees]C to 31.6[degrees]C. The region has a population of [approximately equal to] 400,000. Belen (Figure 1), an urban slum area of Iquitos on the floodplain of the Itaya and Amazon Rivers, annually floods during January to May from Andean run-off. Many residences are built on floats; during flooding, these houses rise with the river....

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A118343177