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Reunion Island: worrying increase in cases of leptospirosis disease


This infectious disease is transmitted from rats to humans through contact with water and has proliferated in recent years due to heavy rains.

A worrying increase in cases of leptospirosis in the French overseas territories.

In particular on Reunion Island where 165 cases and three deaths linked to this disease were recorded in 2022, compared to 140 cases in 2021. To combat the proliferation of this bacterium transmitted from rats to humans, the Reunionese authorities have launched a second deratting campaign from March 17 until the end of May.

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Leptospirosis is caused by leptospira bacteria that thrive in warm, moist environments, where they can survive for up to several weeks.

The disease is contracted on contact with water (fresh water or muddy soil) contaminated with the urine and excrement of mammals, mainly rats.

Humans can be infected only if they have skin lesions - bacteria do not cross healthy skin.

Rainy season favorable to contamination

This infectious disease experiences an upsurge each year during the rainy season, from January to May.

However, since 2016, an unprecedented increase in the number of cases has been observed in Reunion: from 45 cases in 2016 to 165 cases in 2022. This is partly explained by extreme rainfall caused by global warming.


With the recent heavy rains, a further increase in the number of cases is also expected in the coming weeks

," warns the Ministry of Health in Le


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The rainy season is the period most at risk

”, recalled the Regional Health Agency, quoted by France Info.

This period is particularly favorable for soil leaching responsible for the dispersion of leptospires in the environment.

It also has temperature and humidity conditions conducive to the survival of the bacteria in humid environments

,” continues the Ministry of Health.

Diagnostic issues

However, other factors may have contributed to the increase in contamination on Reunion Island.

In particular "

an improvement in the reporting of cases of leptospirosis in connection with the awareness of health professionals

", reports the ministry.

If this disease has been known for more than a century by scientists, "

we are witnessing real diagnostic problems because the symptoms are close to those of the flu

(high fever, muscle pain and headache)", raises Mathieu Picardeau , head of the national reference center for leptospirosis at the Institut Pasteur.

“This rise in cases is concerning because not diagnosing a patient with leptospirosis increases their chances of developing severe forms of the disease


The first symptoms appear on average one to two weeks after contamination.

But "

the disease can worsen four to five days after the first signs and extend to the meninges, liver, kidneys, lungs...

", warns the ministry.

In 2022 in Réunion, 7 cases out of 10 required hospitalization and 1 case out of 4 was placed in intensive care.

According to Mathieu Picardeau, scientists identify a million severe cases worldwide each year, "

but this figure is most likely underestimated due to lack of surveillance, especially in Africa


And at least 60,000 people a year die from this disease, adds the expert.

The latter still wants to reassure: “

When the diagnosis is made in time, treatment with antibiotics is very effective.


Low risk in mainland France

Reunion is not the only French overseas territory to be affected by this increase in contamination.

This is the case of New Caledonia, whose number of cases rose from 65 in 2019 to 265 in 2022. Elsewhere in the world, leptospirosis is present in tropical islands.


The strongest incidences are recorded in Southeast Asia, in the Pacific and Indian Ocean

", specifies Mathieu Picardeau.

But what about metropolitan France?

According to the researcher from the Institut Pasteur, “

there are on average 700 cases of leptospirosis per year in mainland France


With the garbage collectors' strike in the capital in recent weeks, mountains of garbage litter the streets and attract rats.

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The question of an increase in contamination then arises.


There is no proven health risk

, assures the Ministry of Health

, because city sidewalks are not a humid environment favorable to the survival or proliferation of leptospira."

Same analysis on the side of Mathieu Picardeau who declares not to observe any evolution in this direction and adds that “

the epidemic peak is in summer when people practice aquatic activities


Source: lefigaro

All tech articles on 2023-03-22

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