Animal Health Professionals Site

8 April 2015

Nationwide diagnostics confirm continuing leptospirosis threat

MILTON KEYNES, UK, April 8, 2015 - Leptospirosis remains a common threat to dairy and beef herds in Britain, according to extensive new data collected over the last 18 months from the MSD Animal Health EXPERTIS BeefCheck and DairyCheck disease diagnostic schemes.  

This latest data set, taken from 1841 non-vaccinating farms1, shows that on average 45% of herds were positive for leptospirosis antibodies, highlighting the importance of vaccination at turnout. When looking specifically at dairy herds, the infection level rose to 58%.

The disease was prevalent in all parts of the country (see disease map), with over 50% of the herds being affected in Wales and large parts of south west, northern and central England.

“Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterial infection, and there are two strains which are known to affect UK herds, L. hardjo prajitno and L. hardjo bovis,” explains MSD technical manager John Atkinson. “In some cases, the effects of an infection can be dramatic. For example, in a recent leptospirosis outbreak in Ayr reported in March this year2, 12 cows from a herd of 160 experienced a sudden onset drop in milk production.”

In many cases, however, the disease doesn’t cause these dramatic effects, but it can significantly lower fertility and cause poor calf health3.

“Spring turnout is traditionally the time of year to make sure your herd is fully protected against bovine leptospirosis,” he continues “This is because, at grass, uninfected cattle are suddenly exposed to the urine of infected animals that may be shedding the disease. “Moist spring grass is also a favourable environment for leptospirosis to survive outside the host.”

Leptospirosis also infects people, for example through contact with cattle urine. The latest data from Public Health England4 shows that farmers are at particular risk of contracting this infection, which may cause severe flu-like symptoms that can last for weeks or months.

Farmers are recommended to contact their veterinary surgeon for advice on how to protect against leptospirosis.


1 – Expertis BeefCheck and DairyCheck data, October 2013 – March 2015

2 – Milk drop due to leptospirosis in dairy cows, Veterinary Record, 7 March 2015, p247-250

3 – Ellis, W.A. et al.(1988), Res Vet Sci, 44, p375-379

4 – UK Zoonoses Report, available at:

5 - GfK and Ceesa data, MAT February 2015

About MSD Animal Health

Today's MSD is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA., is the global animal health business unit of MSD. Through its commitment to theScience of Healthier Animals™, MSD Animal Health offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the widest range of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health management solutions and services. MSD Animal Health is dedicated to preserving and improving the health, well-being and performance of animals. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D resources and a modern, global supply chain. MSD Animal Health is present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in some 150 markets. For more information, visit or connect with us on LinkedIn.

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