Evidence of leptospira serovars in wildlife and leptospiral dna in water sources in a natural area in eAst-Central Illinois, USA

Kourtney Grimm, Nelda A. Rivera, Shannon Fredebaugh-Siller, Hsin Yi Weng, Richard E. Warner, Carol W. Maddox, Nohra E. Mateus-Pinilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We identified seven Leptospira serovars in wildlife and the presence of leptospiral DNA in water sources at a natural area within a fragmented habitat in Illinois, US. These serovars have been implicated in domestic animal and human leptospirosis, a reemerging zoonotic disease, whose reservoirs include wildlife and domestic animals. We live trapped medium-sized mammals (n=351) near building (H-sites) or forest sites (F-sites). Using serology, we evaluated exposure to Leptospira (L. interrogans serovars Autumnalis, Bratislava, Canicola, Icterohaemorrhagiae, Pomona; L. kirschneri serovar Grippotyphosa; L. borgpetersenii serovar Hardjo). Using PCR, we tested for the presence of leptospires in eight water samples (ponds, creeks, and rainwater runoff) collected near trapping sites. We identified antibody titers in raccoons (Procyon lotor; 121/221) and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana; 60/112), but not in feral cats (Felis catus; 0/18). We found significant differences in overall Leptospira seroprevalence between years (P=0.043) and animal’s age in 2008 (P=0.005) and 2009 (P=0.003). Serovars Autumnalis, Bratislava, and Grippotyphosa showed significant differences among age groups with the highest seroprevalence in adults. Females had a higher seroprevalence for Icterohaemorragiae in 2008 (P=0.003) and Hardjo in 2009 (P=0.041). Risk of exposure to Leptospira was higher at F-sites compared to H-sites (odds ratio 2.3, 95% confidence interval 1.3–3.9, P=0.002). We captured more animals with titers >1:800 at H-sites, but there was no association between titer levels and capture site. Six of eight water sources were Leptospira-positive; however, there was no correlation between trapping locations of seropositive animals and positive water sources. Natural areas create opportunities for interspecies interactions, favoring leptospires transmission across species. Understanding that Leptospira serovars are present in natural areas is an integral part of the safe human and pet recreational use of these areas. Our study should raise awareness and build on public education designed to prevent disease transmission between species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-327
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of wildlife diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Didelphis virginiana
  • Felis catus
  • Feral cat
  • Leptospirosis
  • Procyon lotor
  • Raccoon
  • Virginia opossum
  • Zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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