An investigation was undertaken to assess the present importance of leptospiral infections in Northern Ireland, and in particular to look for evidence of infection by leptospiral serotypes other than L. icterohaemorrhagiae and L. canicola.
Blood samples from 335 patients, sent to the laboratory for a variety of tests, were examined. After initial screening with five groups of pooled antigens, tests for leptospiral agglutinins were completed with formolized antigens prepared from 13 different serotypes. In seven patients a diagnosis of acute leptospirosis was made while nine others showed serological evidence of previous leptospiral infection. Attempts to isolate leptospirae by culture from 29 blood samples were unsuccessful.
The serological results indicate that two additional leptospiral serotypes, namely L. ballum and L. bratislava, are causing human infection in Northern Ireland, and presumably also in other parts of the British Isles. Some clinical and epidemiological features associated with different types of leptospiral infection are described. It is stressed that leptospirosis is essentially a febrile illness, that meningeal symptoms are common, and that (contrary to popular belief) jaundice is by no means a constant occurrence.
The implications of these findings are discussed, with special reference to the diagnosis of leptospiral infections. Laboratory diagnostic procedures are briefly reviewed, and the possible deficiencies of the agglutination test commonly used in Britain are pointed out. Some suggestions are made concerning both clinical and laboratory aspects of diagnosis, and the need for a reliable screening test for all forms of leptospiral infection is emphasized.
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