Leptospirosis likely present in Pacific region

Noumea, New Caledonia - Leptospirosis is possibly present in Pacific Island countries and territories, but the spread of the deadly disease is left undetected due to limited data and misdiagnosis, health experts said.

Palau epidemiologist Cheryl-Ann R. Udui said a few cases of leptospirosis were detected in Palau following an increased testing of samples from sick people during the dengue outbreak.

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. More than 1 million cases of leptospirosis are reported every year resulting in the loss of 60,000 lives worldwide. The impact of leptospirosis is not only limited to humans. The disease also causes economic impacts related to a reduction in productivity among infected livestock resulting to loss of the household’ earning capacity. Recent global studies point to Oceania as the region of highest incidence, and the impact of climate change is likely to increase its prevalence throughout the region.

A training course for health professionals aiming at increasing knowledge and skills in surveillance and control of leptospirosis in the region took place in Noumea from Nov. 13 to 17 at the Pacific Community (SPC) and the IPNC.

“After hearing all the presentations at the training, I realized that the burden of leptospirosis is really underestimated in our region, especially in Palau,” Udui said. “The training is very timely and will help me back home in raising awareness on the disease and do proper investigations to better estimate the magnitude of leptospirosis burden in animals and humans.”

Vincent Richard, director of Pasteur Institute of New Caledonia, said cases are often under-recognized or misdiagnosed as dengue, malaria or influenza due to the non-specific manifestations of early-phase leptospirosis.

“Leptospirosis is likely to be