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New Approach Assesses Risk of Water-Borne Pathogen Disease

s successfully used a powerful molecular technology called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to measure and compare levels of Leptospira in environmental surface waters at urban and rural sites in the Peruvian Amazon region of Iquitos. Leptospirosis, caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira, is the most common disease in the world transmitted from animals to humans.

Annually, tens of millions of human cases of leptospirosis occur worldwide, and fatality rates can range as high as twenty to twenty-five percent in some regions. It occurs in both industrialized and developing countries, but is particularly prevalent in tropical countries where poor people live under highly crowded conditions, or in rural areas where people are exposed to water contaminated by the urine of Leptospira-infected mammals such as livestock or rats. Transmission also appears to coincide with warm weather and the occurrence of flooding, which washes soil contaminated with animal urine into water sources such as wells and streams.

Recent outbreaks worldwide among adventure athletes, military personnel and travelers highlight the risk for acquiring leptospirosis in tropical environments. Noted risk factors include the use of well or stream water, minding livestock, walking barefoot and the presence of rats and cats in the home.

Previous data from the Peruvian Amazon region indicated that the overall incidence of human leptospirosis was similar in urban and rural sites. However, the severe form of the disease had only been observed in urban areas. Vinetz and his research team tested two hypotheses: first, that concentration of more virulent Leptospira would be higher in urban than in rural environmental surface waters; and that the concentration and species of disease-causing Leptospira in the water would be associated with both the risk of acquiring the disease and its severity.

Standard lab culture-based methods of identifying Leptospira in water
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