24 Oct 2013

Leptospirosis cases on farms rising

2:39 pm on 24 October 2013

Massey University scientists are investigating the harm that leptospirosis does to livestock, with the aim of encouraging more farmers to vaccinate their animals against the disease.

Leptospirosis is a highly infectious and debilitating disease that can be passed on to humans handling farm stock either on farms or in processing plants.

A team from Massey University has been researching the disease and its impact.

One of the researchers, Jackie Benschop, has found that as well as the human health risk, leptospirosis is also causing production and reproduction losses in livestock.

She says that shows up in research the team has done on deer herds.

Currently about 95% of dairy herds are vaccinated against leptospirosis but only about 10% of beef herds.

Dr Benschop says farmers need to see an economic benefit to vaccinate.

She says the research shows there is a pay off to vaccinating deer and early results from studies in sheep and beef shows a the same may well be the case.

An increase has also been reported in cases of leptospirosis among farmers.

Latest figures show an increase in human cases of the disease, with 110 reported cases last year, mostly in the farming community. But there are many more unreported cases.

Dr Benschop says an awareness campaign has helped lower the incidence among meat workers.

But in contrast, infection rates in the farming community are rising.

Dr Benschop says the total number of cases was an increase on the previous year.

She says that is only the figures for notified cases, which are the tip of the iceberg, and from infection work with meatworkers researchers estimate that there is something like 20 to 40 times under-reporting.

Dr Benschop says half the 110 predominantly rural people who are notified with the disease go to hospital and about half of those again end up in intensive care.