Leptospira bacteria

Leptospira bacteria

Researchers in Malaysia have been studying the prevalence and distribution of leptospirosis in the Rejang Basin area of Sarawak, in order to gain a better understanding of the disease. It is hoped the study will help inform members of the public and health professionals alike.

Leptospirosis is a tropical disease caused by Leptospira bacteria, which are spread by various animals including rats, dogs, pigs and cattle. Although it is rarely fatal, it can cause severe liver and kidney damage among patients in the advanced stages. Initial symptoms are similar to flu, and if diagnosed early the disease can be easily treated with antibiotics. Thus, prompt diagnosis is an essential part of its control.

The worldwide prevalence of leptospirosis ranges from 3.6-53 per cent, but outbreaks are relatively common in Southeast Asia. The earliest documented case in Malaysia was reported in 1928. In the past few years there have been several outbreaks, and in 2011 the number of cases reported in Sarawak was 51, up from 49 cases the previous year.

Factors influencing the spread of the disease are poorly understood, but it is thought that chances of infection are heavily influenced by lifestyle, with those coming into regular contact with infected animals or water at greatest risk. There is also reason to believe the actual number of cases has been underreported and is in fact much higher, as the only cases recorded are those documented by health clinics, so do not take into account affected people who have not sought medical help. In order to gain a more accurate picture of the distribution and prevalence of the disease in Malaysia, researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Sarawak Health Department carried out field studies in the Rejang Basin area in which they collected and tested human and animal blood serum samples for the presence of leptospirosis antibodies.

Analysis revealed that 31 per cent of humans sampled were infected and suggested an association between certain daily activities, including farming and water activities with leptospirosis infection. Data obtained from this study can be utilised for future health programs and increase awareness of the disease among health practitioners and the public, particularly in Sarawak.

For further information contact:

Dr Lela Su’ut
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
Email: slela@fmhs.unimas.my