The persistence of anti-leptospiral IgM and IgG antibodies and agglutinating antibodies was studied in serologically confirmed cases of severe leptospirosis during the acute illness and over periods of several years after recovery. The antibody response in non-leptospirosis patients presenting to hospital with similar symptoms over the same period of time was used to estimate the background antibody level to leptospirosis in the community. All patients enrolled in the study had blood samples collected twice in the acute stage of illness, once during convalescence and then annually from the time of initial hospitalisation until the end of the study period. Six hundred and thirty-eight patients presented to hospital with acute febrile illness, of whom 321 were diagnosed with leptospirosis. Patients who had severe leptospirosis commonly remained seropositive, with IgM, IgG and agglutinating antibodies detectable for several years after infection. A significant proportion of cases had high titres of agglutinating antibody detectable by the microscopic agglutination test (> or = 800). There were marked differences in the magnitude and duration of persistence of agglutinating antibodies directed against different serogroups. More than 20% of cases with evidence of infection with serogroup Autumnalis retained titres of >800, 4 years after the acute illness. In one case a titre of 800 was detected 11 years after infection. Persistence of agglutinating antibody titres can create problems in interpretation of serological results and make it impossible to estimate the time of infection, given a specific titre. This study demonstrates that in endemic areas where seroprevalence is high, use of a single elevated titre is not reliable to define a current infection.