Influence of Season, Population and Individual Characteristics on the Prevalence of Leptospira spp. in Bank Voles in North-West Germany
Leptospirosis is a worldwide zoonotic disease with more than 1 million human cases annually. Infections are associated with direct contact to infected animals or indirect contact to contaminated water or soil. As not much is known about the prevalence and host specificity of Leptospira spp. in bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus), our study aimed to evaluate Leptospira spp. prevalence and genomospecies distribution as well as the influence of season, host abundance and individual characteristics on the Leptospira prevalence. Bank voles, which are abundant and widely distributed in forest habitats, were collected in the years 2018 to 2020 in North-West Germany, covering parts of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. The DNA of 1817 kidney samples was analyzed by real-time PCR targeting the lipl32 gene. Positive samples were further analyzed by targeting the secY gene to determine Leptospira genomospecies and multilocus sequence typing (MLST) to determine the sequence type (ST). The overall prevalence was 7.5% (95% confidence interval: 6.4–8.9). Leptospira interrogans (83.3%), L. kirschneri (11.5%) and L. borgpetersenii (5.2%) were detected in bank voles. Increasing body weight as a proxy for age increased the individual infection probability. Only in years with high bank vole abundance was this probability significantly higher in males than in females. Even if case numbers of human leptospirosis in Germany are low, our study shows that pathogenic Leptospira spp. are present and thus a persisting potential source for human infection.