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Bay leptospirosis cases for national study

Leptospirosis is a serious illness, as anyone who has suffered from it will tell you. Hawke’s Bay has one of the highest rates of the disease in New Zealand.

Massey University is leading a study into the disease: ‘Emerging sources and pathways for leptospirosis’, and will be asking newly-infected patients in Hawke’s Bay to join the study. It is also putting together a control group of people living and/or working in similar situations as those who contract the disease.

The disease can have serious and long-lasting impacts, said Hawke’s Bay Medical Officer of Health Dr Nick Jones. “We need better understanding of leptospirosis to help reduce illness in the future so I encourage anyone contacted regarding this study to seriously consider taking part.”

Caused by a bacteria normally caught from contact with the urine of an infected animal, in the first instance leptospirosis can cause flu-like symptoms. If not treated early, the disease can start to impact on major organs in the body, including the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. About 60 per cent of patients with confirmed leptospirosis are hospitalised and about one third suffer life-long effects.

More than half of the people who catch it are farmers or meat workers (who have a very high exposure to animal urine), but others include shearers, hunters and trappers, people handling animal feed that is infected with rodent urine and, more rarely, people who have swum in infected waters.

Records over 18 years show Hawke’s Bay is one of the top two areas for leptospirosis hospitalisation. In 2019 there were 10 confirmed cases of the disease in the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board area.

To avoid catching the disease, people who work in environments where they might come into contact with animal urine are encouraged to wear protective clothing including gloves and eye protection, and to wash hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or smoking. Farmers are encouraged to vaccinate their animals against the disease.

People in high-risk environments are encouraged to see their GP as soon as possible if they develop flu-like symptoms.

Massey University’s study, led by Dr Shahista Nisa, will look for information that will help prevent infection, including measuring the severity of the disease in New Zealanders and how long it lasts, and the best use of animal vaccination and personal protective equipment in order to prevent infection.

Leptospirosis cases are notified to Public Health, from where requests to join the study will come.

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