News & Advice

What is leptospirosis?

Mar 5, 2018 | Dry stock, Dry stock animal health & welfare

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. Many species can be infected, including cattle, pigs, rodents, dogs and humans. Affected cattle may abort (occasionally resulting in abortion storms) or may show no outward signs of infection. While less common in sheep, they may show signs such as abortion, still-born lambs or decreased scanning rate, lethargy, or jaundice. Red urine (haemoglobinuria) and anaemia are also symptoms of leptospirosis.

How do you catch leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is contracted through exposure to the urine or aborted material from infected animals. The infection most commonly enters through cuts or grazes on the skin or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Leptospires thrive in moist conditions. Both humans and animals can be infected by contact with contaminated water.

What happens if you are infected with leptospirosis?

There are several forms of the disease, ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe fever, light sensitivity, liver damage, vomiting, severe headaches and kidney failure. Many people are forced to give up work because the disease is so debilitating. Many people require hospitalisation. Long lasting effects occur when people suffer kidney or liver damage.

How to prevent human infection

  1. Vaccination of animals reduces the risk to humans, but does not eliminate it.
  2. Basic hygiene must always be practiced.
  3. Avoid contact with urine, wash hands after handling wool.
  4. Cover cuts with waterproof plasters.
  5. Wash hands with disinfectant.
  6. Avoid contact between hands and eyes/mouth while working with stock.
  7. No smoking, eating or drinking while handling livestock.
  8. Wear gloves and aprons during risky procedures, such as calvings.
  9. Be especially careful around aborting cows and aborted material.

Other risk factors pigs and rodents can be a source of infection for both cattle and humans. If pigs are kept they should be vaccinated (at six-monthly intervals) and should come from leptospirosis free piggeries, or be treated with antibiotics on arrival. Rodent control, especially around feed, will reduce risk. Effluent and waterways are also risks. Contact with these should be reduced by effective fencing.


You can start vaccinating cattle as young as 4 weeks old in high risk places, but at 12 weeks old is usual. Initially, in all ages, two doses should be given, 4 to 6 weeks apart, and a booster vaccination should be given within 12 months. The vaccine lasts 12 months so yearly boosters should be given.
Call us to discuss the best programme for your animals.

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