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Rapid, actionable diagnosis of urban epidemic leptospirosis using a pathogenic Leptospira lipL32-based real-time PCR assay.

PLoS Negl Trop Dis; 11(9): e0005940, 2017 Sep.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28915243


BACKGROUND: With a conservatively estimated 1 million cases of leptospirosis worldwide and a 5-10% fatality rate, the rapid diagnosis of leptospirosis leading to effective clinical and public health decision making is of high importance, and yet remains a challenge. METHODOLOGY: Based on parallel, population-based studies in two leptospirosis-endemic regions in Brazil, a real-time PCR assay which detects lipL32, a gene specifically present in pathogenic Leptospira, was assessed for the diagnostic effectiveness and accuracy. Patients identified by active hospital-based surveillance in Salvador and Curitiba during large urban leptospirosis epidemics were tested. Real-time PCR reactions were performed with DNA-extracted samples obtained from 127 confirmed and 23 unconfirmed cases suspected of leptospirosis, 122 patients with an acute febrile illness other than leptospirosis, and 60 healthy blood donors. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The PCR assay had a limit of detection of 280 Leptospira genomic equivalents/mL. Sensitivity for confirmed cases was 61% for whole blood and 29% for serum samples. Sensitivity was higher (86%) for samples collected within the first 6 days after onset of illness compared to those collected after 7 days (34%). The real-time PCR assay was able to detect leptospiral DNA in blood from 56% of serological non-confirmed cases. The overall specificity of the assay was 99%. CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that real-time PCR may be a reliable tool for early diagnosis of leptospirosis, which is decisive for clinical management of severe and life-threatening cases and for public health decision making.