The sera of 271 pteropid bats (or flying foxes) collected from Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory were screened against a reference panel of 21 Leptospiraspp. using the microscopic agglutination test (MAT). Sera were collected from December 1997 through August 1999. The MAT panel represented those serovars previously isolated in Australia, as well as exotic serovars found in neighboring countries. Leptospiral antibodies were detected in 75 (28%) of the sera and represented seven serovars, one of which, L. interrogansserovar cynopteri has been regarded as exotic to Australia. Sixty sera were reactive to one serovar, 12 sera were reactive to two serovars, and three sera were reactive to three serovars. The L. kirschneriserovar australis was most frequently identified (60.2%). The findings suggest a previously unrecognized role of pteropid bats in the natural history of leptospirosis. The potential exists for establishment of infection in new host species, the transmission of new serovars to known host species, and for changes in virulence of leptospires as a result of passage through these species.
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Vol. 38 • No. 1