Recent serologic studies have identified flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) as carriers of leptospirosis; however, little is known about the role of flying foxes as carriers of pathogenic Leptospira spp. To determine if Australian Pteropus spp. are carriers of pathogenic Leptospira spp., TaqMan real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to detect leptospiral DNA in kidney and urine specimens from four species of flying fox, including the spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus), black flying fox (Pteropus alecto), grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), and little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus). Of the 173 kidney samples tested, 19 (11%) were positive for leptospiral DNA. Positive individuals were detected in all four species; significant differences in prevalence were not detected between species, between species within the same geographic area, or between geographically separated samples from the same species. Of the 46 urine samples tested, 18 (39%) tested positive by PCR, confirming that flying foxes shed leptospires into the environment. The detection of leptospiral DNA in the kidneys and urine of flying foxes suggests that flying foxes are carriers of pathogenic Leptospira spp. No evidence collected in the present study, however, suggests that flying foxes pose a significant risk of leptospirosis to the wider community or that humans who are in regular, close contact with flying foxes are at risk for leptospirosis.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4