Bovine leptospirosis in abattoirs in Uganda: Molecular detection and risk of exposure among workers

Zoonoses Public Health. 2019 Sep;66(6):636-646. doi: 10.1111/zph.12616. Epub 2019 Jun 27.


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic bacterial disease reported worldwide. In Uganda, seropositivity has been reported in both humans and domesticated animals, including cattle. However, it remains unknown whether cattle are shedding leptospires and thus acting as potential source for human leptospirosis. We conducted this cross-sectional study in two cattle abattoirs in Kampala, Uganda between June and July 2017. Kidney and urine samples from 500 cattle sourced from across the country were analysed by real-time PCR to establish the prevalence of Leptospira-positive cattle and risk of exposure to abattoir workers. The species of infecting Leptospira was determined by amplification of secY gene and compared to reference sequences published in GenBank. Of 500 cattle tested, 36 (7.2%) had Leptospira DNA in their kidneys (carriers), 29 (5.8%) in their urine (shedders); with an overall prevalence (kidney and/or urine) of 8.8%. Leptospira borgpetersenii was confirmed as the infecting species in three cattle and Leptospira kirschneri in one animal. Male versus female cattle (OR = 3, p-value 0.003), exotic versus local breeds (OR = 21.3, p-value 0.002) or cattle from Western Uganda (OR = 4.4, p-value 0.001) and from regions across the border (OR = 3.3, p-value 0.032) versus from the central region were more likely to be Leptospira-positive. The daily risk of exposure of abattoir workers to ≥1 (kidney and/or urine) positive carcass ranged from 27% (95% credibility interval 18.6-52.3) to 100% (95% CI 91.0-100.0), with halal butchers and pluck inspectors being at highest risk. In conclusion, cattle slaughtered at abattoirs in Uganda carry and shed pathogenic Leptospira species; and this may pose occupation-related risk of exposure among workers in these abattoirs, with workers who handle larger numbers of animals being at higher risk.

Keywords: Leptospira; abattoir; leptospirosis; real-time PCR; risk of exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cattle Diseases / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptospira / isolation & purification
  • Leptospirosis / epidemiology
  • Leptospirosis / microbiology
  • Leptospirosis / veterinary*
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Risk Factors
  • Uganda / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / microbiology*
  • Zoonoses / transmission