News & Advice

Leptospirosis in New Zealand: Risks, Updates, and New Vaccines

Nov 1, 2023 | Biosecurity, Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare

Leptospirosis (lepto) is a serious disease of people and animals – it can make us really sick! The word lepto is so familiar however, that it’s easy to fall into the trap of being laid back about what the disease really is, and the effects and impacts it can have on the lives of both people and animals

Leptospirosis is on the rise in New Zealand once more. It’s crucial that we stay up to date and proactive to safeguard ourselves, our families, workmates, and of course, our animals. Here’s a summary of what we already know, what’s happening now, and what’s new in the prevention of leptospirosis.


You may already know…

Leptospirosis, or lepto for short, is a zoonotic disease meaning it is passed from animals to people. It is caused by Leptospira bacteria (there are lots of different lepto strains that cause diseases in lots of different animal species, including humans).


Lepto symptoms in people

Lepto can cause a wide range of symptoms varying from mild disease to very severe illness resulting in hospitalization. Many lepto symptoms can look just like flu or covid, so it is almost certain that lepto is underdiagnosed and underreported.


Lepto symptoms in animals

The clinical signs of disease vary depending on the animal species affected. Some animals show no signs of disease (while still spreading the bacteria to other animals and people), while others may suffer from kidney disease or life-threatening liver damage. Lepto can cause pregnancy loss which sometimes results in outbreaks called “abortion storms” in production animals.


Lepto prevention

There are several ways to help reduce your chances of catching lepto. Good hygiene in risky situations (wearing gloves when calving cows and no eating, drinking or smoking around animals for examples), good rodent control to keep mouse and rat populations under control (rodent urine is a common source of the bacteria) and of course, vaccination of all domestic animals whether they are house pets, paddock pets or commercial farm animals.

7 ways to prevent lepto infection.


Vaccination for calves:

Now is the time to vaccinate spring-born calves. Calves can be vaccinated from as young as 4 weeks of age if they are considered ‘high risk’. All other calves should have their first lepto vaccination (sensitizer) around 12 weeks of age. A second vaccination (booster) must be given 4-6 weeks after the sensitizer; ideally spring calves should receive two shots before Christmas. Calves should receive a 3rd lepto vaccination (an additional booster) at 6 – 9 months of age; the exact timing of this shot will depend on your farm’s risk profile and when calves were first vaccinated. Many calves are given their 3rd shot in May or June to bring the calves into line with the herd. Chat to your vet to make sure you get the timing right on your farm.


What’s happening now…

Lepto cases are on the rise, both in animals and humans. Some of these cases are due to severe flooding events across New Zealand (lepto loves water!), but many are due to a newly identified strain of lepto found only in NZ (and one other country). It is so new, that it is still waiting to be officially named, but it is likely that the new strain will be called “Pacifica”.


What’s new going forward….

A working group including expert representatives from MPI, Massey University, the NZ Veterinary Association, diagnostic laboratories and the Meat Industry Association (MIA) are working with vets around the country to understand the current lepto risk to animals and people in New Zealand, following reports of increased cases in flood-affected areas.

A new lepto vaccine for calves and adult cattle is being launched at the end of 2023. This vaccine contains an extra strain of lepto compared with products already on the market. This vaccine has been developed especially for New Zealand in response to the increasing number of human lepto cases, now understood to be a result of the new strain, likely to be known as “Pacifica”.

Recent research has found this new strain of lepto is present in many dairy herds across New Zealand, although it appears not to cause illness in the cattle themselves. Most people infected with the new strain have links to cattle so it is reasonable to think that if we can reduce the infection reservoir in cows, we will reduce the risk to people.


What can you do?

Ensure you are taking all safety precautions to reduce your risks of coming in contact with infected animals or their bodily fluids. Make sure all your animals are vaccinated on time, every time. Talk to your Anexa vet if you want more information about the new lepto vaccine that will be available for calves and adult cattle shortly.



Other resources you may find helpful:

What is leptospirosis?

Why do I need to vaccinate my animals for Lepto?

Lepto – why is it still a problem?


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