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Widespread but neglected disease a health threat in Africa, Virginia Tech researchers say
Date:5/14/2013

ronment are connected, including the potential for diseases to move between humans and wildlife," said Alexander. "Diseases such as leptospirosis that have been around for a very long time are often overlooked and underfunded amid the hunt for the next newly emerging disease."

"Leptospirosis was first described in 1886, but we still know little about the occurrence of this disease in Africa, despite the knowledge that it can impact human health substantially and that Africa is expected to have the highest burden of disease," said Jobbins.

With the identification of leptospirosis in the ecosystem, Alexander worries about the public health threat this disease may pose to the highly immune-compromised population of Botswana, where 25 percent of 15- to 49-year-olds are HIV positive, according to the Botswana Government's Ministry of Health.

"In much of Africa, people die without a cause being determined," she continued. "Leptospirosis is likely impacting populations in the region, but without knowledge that the organism is present in the environment, overburdened public health officials are unlikely to identify clinical cases in humans, particularly if the supporting diagnostics are not easily accessible."

The researchers looked for Leptospira interrogans in archived kidneys collected from banded mongoose that had been found dead from a variety of causes. Of the sampled mongoose, 43 percent tested positive for the pathogen.

"Given this high prevalence in mongoose, we believe that Botswana possesses an as-yet-unidentified burden of human leptospirosis," said Jobbins. "There is an urgent need to look for this disease in humans who have clinical signs consistent with infection."

Because banded mongoose have an extended range across sub-Saharan Africa, the study results have important implications to public health beyond Botswana. Across Africa, human and animal populations overlap, and many species are becoming t
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Contact: Lynn Davis
davisl@vt.edu
540-231-6157
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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