Control Guideline for Public Health Units

Public health priority: Routine

PHU response time: Respond to confirmed cases within 3 working days. Enter confirmed cases on NCIMS within 5 working days of notification.

Case management: Case should receive appropriate antibiotics. Identify likely source.

Contact management: None routinely.​

Last updated: 01 July 2012
  1. Reason for surveillance
  2. Case definition
  3. Notification criteria and procedure
  4. The disease
  5. Managing single notifications

1. Reason for surveillance

To monitor the epidemiology to inform the development of better prevention strategies.

2. Case definition

A confirmed case requires laboratory definitive evidence only.

Laboratory definitive evidence

  • Isolation of pathogenic Leptospira species, or
  • a fourfold or greater rise in Leptospira agglutination titre between acute and convalescent phase sera obtained at least two weeks apart and preferably conducted at the same laboratory, or
  • a single Leptospira micro agglutination titre greater than or equal to 400 supported by a positive EIA IgM result.

Clinical evidence

Not applicable

Epidemiological evidence

Not applicable

3. Notification criteria and procedure

Leptospirosis is to be notified by laboratories on microbiological confirmation (ideal reporting by routine mail).

Only confirmed cases should be entered onto NCIMS.

4. The disease

Infectious agent

Leptospira spirochetes.

Mode of transmission

Leptospirosis is transmitted by direct contact with the urine or tissues of infected animals. It can also be transmitted to humans who are in contact with water, soil or mud contaminated with infected urine, or who ingest contaminated water.

Human-to-human transmission occurs only very rarely. Blood is potentially infectious in the first week of the disease and urine is infectious from the end of the first week and can remain infectious for months. The route of infection is typically via skin cuts and abrasions or through direct contact with mucous membranes.

Often there is a history of contact with animals or exposure to environments where potentially infected animals are present. Many animals can carry Leptospira and may be completely asymptomatic. Commonly implicated animals are cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs and rats.

Outbreaks are usually related to flood waters contaminated with the urine of the infected animals.


The typical incubation period is 5 to 14 days (range 2 to 30 days).

Clinical presentation

The usual clinical presentation is fever, chills, headache, severe myalgia, (particularly of the calves, thighs and lumbar region) and conjunctival suffusion. Severity varies with the infecting serovar.

About 5 - 15% of cases progress to severe disease:

  • Weil's (syndrome jaundice, renal failure, haemorrhage and myocarditis)
  • meningitis and meningoencephalitis
  • pulmonary haemorrhage and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Case fatality rate increases with increasing age and comorbidities.

5. Managing single notifications

Response times


Within 3 working days of a confirmed case begin follow-up investigation.

Data entry

Within 5 working days of notification enter confirmed cases on NCIMS.

Response procedure

The response to a notification will normally be carried out in collaboration with the case's health carers. But regardless of who does the follow-up, PHU staff should ensure that action has been taken to:

  • confirm the onset date and symptoms of the illness
  • confirm results of relevant pathology tests, or recommend the tests be done
  • seek the doctor's permission to contact the case or relevant care-giver
  • find out if the case or relevant care-giver has been told what the diagnosis is before beginning the interview
  • identify the likely source of infection.

Case management

Treatment and Investigation

Refer to Therapeutic Guidelines: Antibiotic


The case or relevant care-giver should be informed about the nature of the infection and the mode of transmission. To avoid future infection cases should be advised to avoid urine or tissues of infected animals and avoid swimming in potentially contaminated water or walking barefoot in mud or moist soil that may have been contaminated with animal urine.

If direct or indirect contact with urine or infected animal tissues is anticipated, skin abrasions should be covered with an occlusive dressing and gloves and other protective clothing should be worn.

Exposure Investigation

A history of possible exposures should be sought. Attempt to identify the source of infection, such as exposure to urine or tissues of infected animals or contaminated drinking or recreational water.

It is important to determine:

  • an occupational history (farmers, abattoir workers, vets, army personnel, miners, sewer workers)
  • recreational exposures (water sports, caving, white-water rafting, swimming, gardening)
  • a history of contact with common host animals (especially cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs and rodents)
  • travel history (especially travel to Queensland and other tropical regions).

Isolation and restriction

Nil. Use standard precautions in a clinical environment.

Environmental evaluation

If the case has occupational risk factors such as working in an abattoir, discuss with WorkCover and the Department of Primary Industries if appropriate.

Contact management

Identification of contacts

Contacts are those who may have been exposed to the same source as the case. Action to detect cases among defined contacts should be considered.

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