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Leptospirosis is one of the most important and costly contributors to reproductive losses in the beef and dairy industries. Regional presence of leptospirosis in dairy herds ranged from 36% of herds in the Midwest to 91% in California, with an overall average of 59%.1 A 6 state study conducted with a cross section of environmental and management conditions representative of the U.S. beef cattle industry found overall prevalence of Lepto hardjo-bovis in cattle herds to be 42 percent.2 

1 Bolin CA., Bovine leptospirosis prevalent in U.S. dairy herds. Bovine Veterinarian. 2003; February. pgs. 14-15

2 Wikse SE, Rogers GM, et al. Herd prevalence and risk factors of Leptospira infection in beef cow/calf operations in the United States: Leptospira borgpetersenii Serovar Hardjo. Bov Pract 2007;41(1):15-23.

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  • Leptospirosis is caused by thin, spiral-shaped Leptospira bacteria. Most infections in cattle are caused by the following types of Leptospira:

    • Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar Hardjo type hardjo-bovis
    • L. interrogans serovar Hardjo type hardjo-prajitno
    • L. interrogans serovar Pomona
    • L. kirschneri serovar Grippotyphosa

    Two other serovars are known to infect cattle and are generally included in leptospirosis vaccines, but the maintenance hosts are species other than cattle:

    • L. interrogans serovar Icterohaemorrhagiae (maintenance host is the rat) 
    • L. interrogans serovar Canicola (maintenance host is the dog)

    The most common cause of bovine leptospirosis in the U.S. is Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar Hardjo type hardjo-bovis.


  • Infected urine is the major source of contamination and disease transmission.  Infected cows that abort their fetuses can excrete Leptospira from their genital tract.  Leptospira ingested by cattle from contaminated water enter the body through the mucous membranes of the oral-nasal cavity. In susceptible cattle, the leptospires infect the bloodstream and tissues, localizing in specific organs, namely the kidneys, uterus, and udder. The primary leptospirosis lesion is damage to the walls of small blood vessels, resulting in necrosis of kidney tubules and in liver damage. An adequate immune response will help eliminate Leptospira from the bloodstream and tissues, although long-lasting tissue damage may occur. Some leptospires may survive in sequestered body sites that are inaccessible to circulating antibodies, resulting in a chronic carrier state with Leptospira shed intermittently in the urine, but with no clinical signs of disease.

  • Infection is in most cases clinically inapparent; however, depending on the virulence and size of the challenge dose, clinical signs may appear, including a high fever, inappetance, and depression. Anemia and jaundice may also occur. Cattle with significant Leptospira infection of the kidneys will excrete port wine colored urine, a condition known as hemoglobinuria. In utero infection results in infertility, abortions, stillbirths, or weak calves, often in multiple cows in the herd. The reproductive consequences of leptospirosis may occur weeks or months after clinical signs of acute infection, making diagnosis difficult.

  • Diagnosis is difficult because most animals do not show clinical signs of Leptospirosis.  Laboratory tests show the presence of Leptospira antibodies in bulk tank milk samples and individual cow serum and urine.

  •   Contact your veterinarian regarding treatment options for Leptospirosis. 

  • Leptospirosis can be controlled by eliminating swampy areas from the premises, and restricting the access of cattle to stagnant water and runoff from animal pens. Wildlife can be vectors for Leptospira.  Therefore, control of rodents and pests will help minimize disease transmission. Because leptospirosis is widespread in the U. S. cattle population, all cattle used for breeding purposes should be vaccinated for the most common Leptospira serovars, including serovar Hardjo bovis. There is little or no cross-protection among Leptospira serovars. Therefore, it is important to vaccinate all susceptible cattle with Spirovac® L5 or Spirovac VL5 prior to breeding to help preempt reproductive loss associated with leptospirosis, including Leptospira borgpetersenii.  Vaccination with Bovi-Shield GOLD FP® 5 L5 HB or Bovi-Shield GOLD FP® 5 VL5 HB will also help protect cattle against the most common Leptospira serovars, including serovar Hardjo bovis, plus bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

  • Leptospirosis is one of the most important and costly contributors to reproductive loss in the beef and dairy industries.



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