Occurrence of Severe Leptospirosis in a Breeding Colony of Squirrel Monkeys

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  • Unite des Leptospires, Institut Pasteur, Laboratoire d'Immunologie Parasitaire, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
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Although experimental leptospirosis has been studied in various species of monkeys, the occurrence of acute leptospirosis in a population of nonhuman primates is uncommon. We report on a number of severe cases of icterohemorrhagic leptospirosis that appeared in the squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus) colony of 109 animals at the Institute Pasteur in French Guiana. Initially, 11 animals had acute illness, with jaundice and a hemorrhagic syndrome, leading to 10 deaths. Two Leptospira interrogans strains were isolated from blood cultures of sick monkeys, and one was isolated from the urine of a rat trapped in the breeding park. All three belonged to serovar copenhageni, and tests using monoclonal antibodies showed that these three strains were extremely similar. In the following weeks, five pregnant female monkeys had miscarriages; two of them had antibodies against the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroup. An epidemiologic study conducted on the 93 remaining animals demonstrated a seropositivity rate of 26% (microagglutination test [MAT] titer ≥ 100) primarily for the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroup, but also for the Ballum, Grippotyphosa, Sejroe, and Panama serogroups. In addition, 12% showed lower MAT titers (50) for the same serogroups. Lastly, recently trapped feral squirrel monkeys were shown to have agglutinins against the Grippotyphosa and Sejroe serogroups. A vaccine, which was prepared from one of the strains isolated, was used in addition to antibiotic prophylaxis to control the enzootic disease. This confirms that the squirrel monkey is highly susceptible to icterohemorrhagic leptospirosis and is probably receptive to other serogroups, and that this animal may be useful in studying experimental leptospirosis and for testing new human vaccines.