Leptospirosis is an emerging infectious disease of pig-hunting dogs and humans in North Queensland

Bronwyn Orr, Mark E. Westman, Richard Malik, Auriol Purdie, Scott B. Craig, Jacqueline M. Norris

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Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease with a worldwide distribution, caused by pathogenic serovars in the genus Leptospira. Feral pigs are known carriers of Leptospira species and pig hunting using dogs is a common recreational activity in Queensland, Australia.

Methodology and principal findings

This study aimed to determine the seroprevalence of Leptospira spp. serovars in pig-hunting dogs above the Tropic of Capricorn in Queensland and by establishing the geographic distribution, serovars and incidence of human cases of leptospirosis in Queensland, identify potential overlap between human and canine exposure. We also explored the knowledge and risk-taking behaviours of pig-hunting dog owners towards zoonotic diseases.

Ninety-eight pig-hunting dogs deemed healthy by physical examination and owned by 41 people from Queensland had serum submitted for Microscopic Agglutination Testing (MAT) to determine antibody titres against Leptospira serovars, while 40/41 dog owners completed a survey on their knowledge of diseases relating to pig hunting. Human leptospirosis cases (n = 330) notified to Queensland Health between 2015–2018 were analysed.

Approximately one quarter (23/87; 26%) of unvaccinated pig-hunting dogs were seropositive to Leptospira spp. Although harder to interpret, 8/11 (73%) vaccinated dogs were seropositive to Leptospira spp. Pig hunters may be more likely to contract leptospirosis compared with the general Queensland population, based on responses from surveyed hunters. The highest concentration of human leptospirosis was in the wet tropics region of Far North Queensland. There was little overlap between the serovars dogs were exposed to and those infecting humans. The dominant serovar identified in unvaccinated dogs was Australis (13/23; 57%), with serovar Arborea (36/330; 10.9%) responsible for the highest number of human leptospirosis cases. Topaz was the second most common serovar in both humans and dogs and was previously unrecorded in Australian dogs. Most hunters surveyed used hand washing as a zoonotic disease risk reduction technique.


Leptospirosis is an emerging disease of growing significance. The infection requires a ‘one health’ approach to understand its epidemiology. With shifting climatic patterns influencing human-animal-environment interactions, ongoing monitoring of diseases like leptospirosis is critical to helping prevent infection of individuals and disease outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0010100
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2022


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