Molecular diagnostics for human leptospirosis

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Purpose of review

The definitive diagnosis of leptospirosis, which results from infection with spirochetes of the genus Leptospira, currently relies on the use of culture, serological testing (microscopic agglutination testing), and molecular detection. The purpose of this review is to describe new molecular diagnostics for Leptospira and discuss advancements in the use of available methods.

Recent findings

Efforts have been focused on improving the clinical sensitivity of Leptospira detection using molecular methods. In this review, we describe a reoptimized pathogenic species-specific real-time PCR (targeting lipL32) that has demonstrated improved sensitivity, findings by two groups that real-time reverse-transcription PCR assays targeting the 16S rrs gene can improve detection, and two new loop-mediated amplification techniques. Quantitation of leptospiremia, detection in different specimen types, and the complementary roles played by molecular detection and microscopic agglutination testing will be discussed. Finally, a protocol for Leptospira strain subtyping using variable number tandem repeat targets and high-resolution melting will be described.


Molecular diagnostics have an established role for the diagnosis of leptospirosis and provide an actionable diagnosis in the acute setting. The use of real-time reverse-transcription PCR for testing serum/plasma and cerebrospinal fluid, when available, may improve the detection of Leptospira without decreasing clinical specificity.

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