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Prevalence of and risk factors for serum antibodies against Leptospira serovars in US veterinarians

Ellen A. Spotts WhitneyCenter for Public Health Preparedness and Research and the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.

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Elizabeth AilesCenter for Public Health Preparedness and Research and the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.

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Lee M. MyersGeorgia Department of Agriculture, 19 Martin Luther King Jr Dr SW, Atlanta, GA 30334.

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Jeremiah T. SalikiAthens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.

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Ruth L. BerkelmanCenter for Public Health Preparedness and Research and the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.

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Abstract

Objective—To determine the seroprevalence of antibodies against Leptospira serovars among veterinarians and identify risk factors for seropositivity in veterinary care settings.

Design—Seroepidemiologic survey.

Study Population—Veterinarians attending the 2006 AVMA Annual Convention.

Procedures—Blood samples were collected from 511 veterinarians, and serum was harvested for a microcapsule agglutination test (MAT) to detect antibodies against 6 serovars of Leptospira. Aggregate data analysis was performed to determine the ratio of the odds of a given exposure (eg, types of animals treated or biosafety practices) in seropositive individuals to the odds in seronegative individuals.

Results—Evidence of previous leptospiral infection was detected in 2.5% of veterinarians. Most veterinarians reported multiple potential exposures to Leptospira spp and other pathogens in the previous 12 months, including unintentional needlestick injuries (379/511 [74.2%]), animal bites (345/511 [67.5%]), and animal scratches (451/511 [88.3%]). Treatment of a dog with an influenza-like illness within the past year was associated with seropositivity for antibodies against Leptospira spp.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Veterinarians are at risk for leptospirosis and should take measures to decrease potential exposure to infectious agents in general. Diagnostic tests for leptospirosis should be considered when veterinarians have febrile illnesses of unknown origin.

Abstract

Objective—To determine the seroprevalence of antibodies against Leptospira serovars among veterinarians and identify risk factors for seropositivity in veterinary care settings.

Design—Seroepidemiologic survey.

Study Population—Veterinarians attending the 2006 AVMA Annual Convention.

Procedures—Blood samples were collected from 511 veterinarians, and serum was harvested for a microcapsule agglutination test (MAT) to detect antibodies against 6 serovars of Leptospira. Aggregate data analysis was performed to determine the ratio of the odds of a given exposure (eg, types of animals treated or biosafety practices) in seropositive individuals to the odds in seronegative individuals.

Results—Evidence of previous leptospiral infection was detected in 2.5% of veterinarians. Most veterinarians reported multiple potential exposures to Leptospira spp and other pathogens in the previous 12 months, including unintentional needlestick injuries (379/511 [74.2%]), animal bites (345/511 [67.5%]), and animal scratches (451/511 [88.3%]). Treatment of a dog with an influenza-like illness within the past year was associated with seropositivity for antibodies against Leptospira spp.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Veterinarians are at risk for leptospirosis and should take measures to decrease potential exposure to infectious agents in general. Diagnostic tests for leptospirosis should be considered when veterinarians have febrile illnesses of unknown origin.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Myers' present address is National Veterinary Stockpile, USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, 2637 Nunnally Shoals Rd, Good Hope, GA 30641.

Supported by the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation through a grant to the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.

The authors thank Julie Kearney and Jeff Marshall for assistance with implementation of the study; Doris Miller-Liebl and Pamela Currin for performing laboratory tests; Susan Lance, Corrie Brown, and Christopher Woods for assistance with protocol design; Craig Greene for technical assistance; Christine Moe, Juan Leon, and Melissa Dowd for processing and storage of specimens; Colleen Spellen for data entry; and Lance Waller for assistance with the statistical analysis.

Address correspondence to Ms. Whitney.