International leptospirosis conference coming to Manawatū

Members of the Massey University Leptospirosis Research Group, (left) Neville Haack, Dr Jackie Benschop, Dr Julie Collins-Emerson and Professor Cord Heuer.

Some of the best minds from around the globe will gather at Massey University to share learnings on a disease which harms animals and humans alike.

The 10th International Leptospirosis Society Conference will be held in Palmerston North from November 27 to December 1, at the Palmerston North Convention Centre.

The event will include workshops and talks from speakers from around the world, and a farm visit off-site. It will bring together medical, veterinary and other health professionals, scientists, policy makers, and members of the public who share a keen interest in leptospirosis and collectively work to develop treatments, awareness, control and management of the disease.

Keynote speakers will present on a number of topics including: the ecology of leptospirosis, the methodology for investigating immunity and vaccine development, clinical disease and diagnosis in humans, and outbreak response, control, extension and community work.

Director of the EpiCentre Professor Cord Heuer says the event provides a forum to facilitate communication and knowledge exchange between the various disciplines.

“In order for us to effectively battle this disease globally, we must share our learnings with the people who are tackling the same issue. This disease is significant, and like any big problem, it requires many to come together to solve the complex issues involved.

“While the meeting overall aims to provide attendees with information to help health authorities in their countries and facilitate the sharing of best practice in diagnosis, treatment, control and management of the disease, it is also about awareness in communities,” he says.

“The second day of the conference in particular will be aimed at facilitating discussion with the wider group of people that this disease affects and will tackle the issue in a way that everyone can understand and relate to, while moving to the more technical issues later on in the conference.”

Co-director of Massey University's Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory, Dr Jackie Benschop, says there are some concerning findings in relation to prevention of the disease.

“Leptospirosis is a workplace hazard in the agricultural sector, but the use of protective equipment in the meat industry does not necessarily prevent infection. Add to that the fact that animal vaccines do not cover all strains and we have a growing problem that needs a multifaceted approach.”

These New Zealand findings may well relate to other countries and climates where leptospirosis occurs at far higher rates. Massey researchers investigated infection sources in people of Fiji and Nepal, and found while strains were entirely different in these counties, but contact with livestock, pets and rodents increased the risk of infection just as in New Zealand. 

“We have done some pilot work that suggests rodent and environmental pathways driven by rainfallcontribute to disease transmission,” Dr Benschop says.

Post Conference Workshops

For the first time, the Society will be offering three post conference workshops: Leptospirosis Microbiology (laboratory-based); Leptospirosis Epidemiology  and a Leptospirosis Genomics (computer-based).

About Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is New Zealand’s most common occupationally-acquired zoonotic disease affecting the health of people and animals. The disease invades either through the body’s mucus membranes or through cuts and abrasions and primarily affects the kidneys. The disease can cause weight loss and death in animals and can transfer to humans through direct or indirect contact with infected urine. It can cause anything from a minor flu-like sickness to making people seriously ill, needing intensive care at hospital.

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