Leptospirosis is a disease caused bacteria in the genus Leptospira. It is a zoonotic disease, which means it can infects both animals and people.

In animals, the infection is often subclinical, meaning the infected animal does not appear unwell (although infection can sometimes cause visible illness in animals, especially young animals).

Infected animals shed bacteria in their urine.

People can become infected by direct contact with urine (eg urine splashes while milking or carcass dressing) or through contact with contaminated environments (eg slurry pit, waterway or contaminated feed). Bacteria can enter the body through mucous membranes (nose, eyes, mouth) or via cuts in the skin.

People infected with Leptospira will often become unwell. They may have symptoms similar to the flu, including:

  • Fever/chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhoea

Some people will be more seriously affected, and may need to be hospitalised due to:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Brain swelling
  • Heart failure

Leptospirosis in New Zealand

Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the highest rates of leptospirosis in the world.

The people at highest risk of infection are those who work with livestock particularly farm workers and meat processing workers. It is recommended that anyone working with livestock speaks to their employer about minimising the risk of leptospirosis infection.

Farmers looking to protect themselves and their staff should speak to their veterinarian about creating a leptospirosis risk management plan.

Resources for veterinary teams

Canine leptospirosis: Factsheet for veterinary teams
- Fact sheet by the Companion Animal Veterinarians (CAV) Branch of the NZVA
Update on leptospirosis post flooding
- NZVA webinar held in August 2023
Leptospirosis in New Zealand - Best practice recommendations for the use of vaccines to prevent human exposure
- A 2012 report by Massey University prepared for the NZVA
Leptospirosis in dogs
- Article by Janice Thompson in VetScript
Emerging leptospirosis in urban Sydney dogs: a case series
- Case report from Australian Veterinary Journal
Serological survey of leptospiral antibodies in clinically unwell dogs in New Zealand
- Study published in Companion Quarterly, the official newsletter of the Companion Animal Veterinarians Branch of the NZVA
Preliminary findings from the leptospirosis dairy study 2016
- Report by the Farmer Leptospirosis Action Group Dairy (FLAG-Dairy)
Leptospirosis Forum 2019
- Presentations about leptospirosis in New Zealand
Leptospirosis Forum 2022
- Presentations about leptospirosis in New Zealand

General resources and advice

A3 sale yard poster
- Poster from leptospirosis.org.nz and Massey University explaining the risks of leptospirosis for sale yards
Leptospirosis: dairy farm fever is still a problem
- Media release from Massey University
Leptospirosis – information for pest controllers, trappers and hunters
- Media release from Massey University
Leptospirosis information
- Resources and information from WorkSafe