Resurgence of field fever in a temperate country: an epidemic of leptospirosis among seasonal strawberry harvesters in Germany in 2007

Desai, S.; van Treeck, U.; Lierz, M.; Espelage, W.; Zota, L.; Sarbu, A.; Czerwinski, M.; Sadkowska-Todys, M.; Avdicova, M.; Reetz, J.; Luge, E.; Guerra, B.; Nöckler, K.; Jansen, A.

BACKGROUND: Although leptospirosis is a reemerging zoonosis of global importance, outbreaks related to agricultural exposures are primarily situated in tropical countries. In July 2007, a suspected leptospirosis outbreak was recognized among strawberry harvesters from Eastern Europe who were working in Germany. An investigation was initiated to identify the outbreak source and the risk factors for infection. METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study with use of a questionnaire administered to harvesters by health authorities in Romania, Slovakia, and Poland. Collected serum samples were tested by microscopic agglutination test and immunoglobulin M enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. A case patient was defined as a person who worked in the strawberry field during the period 5 June-8 September 2007 and had leptospirosis-compatible symptoms and either an antibody titer 1:800 and a positive immunoglobulin M enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay result (for a confirmed case) or no serological confirmation (for a suspected case). Local rodents were examined for leptospirosis. RESULTS: Among 153 strawberry harvesters, we detected 13 confirmed case patients who had test results positive for antibodies against Leptospira species serogroup Grippotyphosa and 11 suspected case patients (attack rate, 16%). Risk of disease increased with each day that an individual worked in the rain with hand wounds (odds ratio, 1.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-1.14) and accidental rodent contact (odds ratio, 4.8; 95% confidence interval, 1.5-15.9). Leptospires of the serogroup Grippotyphosa were isolated from the kidneys of 7 (64%) of 11 voles. CONCLUSIONS: This is, to our knowledge, the largest leptospirosis epidemic to occur in Germany since the 1960s. Contact between hand lesions and contaminated water or soil and infected voles was the most likely outbreak source. The unusually warm winter of 2006-2007 supported vole population growth and contributed to this resurgence of leptospirosis in Germany. Because of ongoing climate change, heightened awareness of leptospirosis in temperate regions is warranted

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Desai, S. / van Treeck, U. / Lierz, M. / et al: Resurgence of field fever in a temperate country: an epidemic of leptospirosis among seasonal strawberry harvesters in Germany in 2007. 2009.

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