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 this week at the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pasteur Institute of New Caledonia (IPNC).

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.

According to Mr Vincent Richard, Director of IPNC, ‘cases are often under-recognized or misdiagnosed as dengue, malaria or influenza due to the non-specific manifestations of early-phase leptospirosis.’

Speaking at the training, SPC Deputy Director of the Public Health Division, Dr Salanieta Saketa explained that, ‘leptospirosis is likely to be present in many Pacific Island countries and territories, but limited data is available, partly due to a lack of understanding of the disease and the complexity of the diagnostic.’

This was also echoed by participants. Palau Epidemiologist, Cheryl-Ann R. Udui, said ‘last year, we detected a few cases of leptospirosis in Palau due to increased testing of samples from sick people during the dengue outbreak. After hearing all the presentations at the training, I realised that the burden of leptospirosis is really underestimated in our region, especially in Palau.’

‘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,’ Ms Udui added.

Alongside Ms Udui from Palau, twenty-one health professionals from 12 other Pacific Island countries and territories (American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna) and 3 Asian countries (Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam) participated in the course.

They will bring back to their home countries enhanced knowledge and skills in clinical and epidemiologic aspects of leptospirosis in humans and animals, diagnostic techniques, treatment, vaccinations, surveillance, outbreak response, prevention and control. Seven of them also received practical training in biological diagnosis at IPNC.

The five-day course (13-17 November) was jointly organised by IPNC and SPC with financial support from the Pasteur Institute, the “Fonds de coopération économique, sociale et culturelle pour le Pacifique « Fonds Pacifique »”, the government of New Caledonia and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Technical sessions were sponsored by Intermed and Roche.

Media contacts:
Christelle Lepers, SPC Surveillance Information and Communication, [email protected]

Information on leptospirosis:
Leptospirosis is an infectious, sometimes fatal disease that is transmitted from animals to humans by infected urine through the environment. Infection can occur through breaks in the skin or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.

The wide range of leptospirosis symptoms (high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea and rash) and their poor specificity can be mistaken for other diseases like dengue fever or influenza.

Without treatment, the disease can lead to serious complications (e.g. kidney and liver failure) and even death. It is therefore crucial that people, who feel sick with a fever and think they have the disease, quickly consult a doctor.

For more information: