Leptospira Genomospecies and Sequence Type Prevalence in Small Mammal Populations in Germany
Leptospirosis is a worldwide emerging infectious disease caused by zoonotic bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Numerous mammals, including domestic and companion animals, can be infected by Leptospira spp., but rodents and other small mammals are considered the main reservoir. The annual number of recorded human leptospirosis cases in Germany (2001–2016) was 25–166. Field fever outbreaks in strawberry pickers, due to infection with Leptospira kirschneri serovar Grippotyphosa, were reported in 2007 and 2014. To identify the most commonly occurring Leptospira genomospecies, sequence types (STs), and their small mammal host specificity, a monitoring study was performed during 2010–2014 in four federal states of Germany. Initial screening of kidney tissues of 3,950 animals by PCR targeting the lipl32 gene revealed 435 rodents of 6 species and 89 shrews of three species positive for leptospiral DNA. PCR-based analyses resulted in the identification of the genomospecies L. kirschneri (62.7%), Leptospira interrogans (28.3%), and Leptospira borgpetersenii (9.0%), which are represented by four, one, and two STs, respectively. The average Leptospira prevalence was highest (∼30%) in common voles (Microtus arvalis) and field voles (Microtus agrestis). Both species were exclusively infected with L. kirschneri. In contrast, in bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and yellow-necked mice (Apodemus flavicollis), DNA of all three genomospecies was detected, and in common shrews (Sorex araneus) DNA of L. kirschneri and L. borgpetersenii was identified. The association between individual infection status and demographic factors varied between species; infection status was always positively correlated to body weight. In conclusion, the study confirmed a broad geographical distribution of Leptospira in small mammals and suggested an important public health relevance of common and field voles as reservoirs of L. kirschneri. Furthermore, the investigations identified seasonal, habitat-related, as well as individual influences on Leptospira prevalence in small mammals that might impact public health.