Strengthening rural communities
About Us
Current Issues
Women in Farming Groups
Access Homehealth
Bursaries and Scholarships
Business Directory


Contact Us


$107,500 raised by RWNZ for Leptospirosis research

RWNZ's National President Margaret Chapman (left) presents RWNZ's final Leptospirosis fundraising cheque to Anou Dreyfus (centre) and Dr Jackie Benschop of Massey University's EpiCentre.

Rural Women New Zealand presented a final cheque for $20,000 from its Leptospirosis fundraising campaign to researchers at Massey University's EpiCentre on 11 February 2009.  This brought the total raised in the campaign to $107,500.  The money will be used to fund a three year PhD for Swiss researcher Anou Dreyfus into this disease.

What is Lepto?  Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection of humans and animals, is New Zealand’s most common, occupationally-acquired, infectious disease, with sufferers reporting severe flu like symptoms which, if not treated promptly, may lead to long term health effects, and, rarely, death. Farmers, their families, meat workers, vets and AI technicians are among those most exposed to the leptospira bacteria, which are shed in the urine of infected animals, such as rats, deer, pigs, cattle, sheep and dogs, as well as wild animals and passed on to humans through cuts in the skin or through the membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.

Prior research undertaken by Massey University demonstrated that leptospires were widely prevalent in domestic deer, beef cattle and sheep. The high endemic level of leptospira infection among livestock suggests that the rate of new infections of farmers through exposure to livestock is probably substantial and alerted both researchers and the public.

Last year Rural Women New Zealand revived earlier fundraising efforts in a bid to help Massey University conduct further research to better understand and overcome this disease, which can have significant effects on people’s long term employment and health.

What's happening with Leptospirosis Research at Massey University - July 2009 update

  • A mail survey  of 1,934 farms has been completed and some results are available: 10% of the farming families recalled that at least one person had the disease in past years, human lepto was more common in NI, in deer herds when lepto was also confirmed in deer (not otherwise), in humans operating large dairy or beef herds, and interestingly, human lepto was less likely when animals had been vaccinated against lepto. Confirmed animal lepto was most prevalent on deer farms (5.0%) followed by beef (2.0%), sheep (1.1%) and dairy (0.2%). These rates heavily depend on farmers using lab-testing for confirmation.
  • The Massey team is currently collecting samples from deer, beef cattle and sheep of up to 300 farms throughout NZ – expected to be completed by end Dec09. This will be followed by testing farmers from farms with-/out confirmed animal-leptospirosis.
  • A first estimate of the risk of new infection over the course of one year is available from meat workers in sheep-only abattoir: 11% of 135 workers had antibodies in 2009 while being negative in 2008. A number of other meat companies have now signed up for this type of double sampling, including sheep, beef and deer plants. Keith Sandilands from Silver Fern farms was one of the drivers of this process to succeed. The study will be completed by end 2010. Anou Dreyfus is managing the process – she is from Switzerland and joined us as a PhD student in Jan09. She is supported by a 1-year Swiss scholarship, and thereafter by funds raised by Rural Women.
  • A Master of Veterinary Study, supervised by Jackie Benschop and Julie Collins-Emerson, has been completed developing a strain typing (DNA fingerprinting, MLST) method, by Emmanuel Platero/Philippines.
  • A new PhD student, Janice Fang from Hongkong, has joined the Massey team and was granted a Massey scholarship. Her research is comparing various available laboratory tests (serology, MAT, ELISA, culture) for acutely ill people and for sub-clinically infected animals. She will also refine the recently established strain typing method (MLST) to be able to investigate sources of infection.
  • Jackie Benschop has shared her EpiCentre position 50% with Environmental Science & Research (ESR)/Porirua – this will bring ESR’s lepto-interests much closer to ours and give access to data and lab-expertise for both EpiCentre and ESR. ESR manages NZ’s public health surveillance of notifiable diseases which includes leptospirosis.
  • Several study results have been accepted as oral presentations at the annual conference of the International Leptospirosis Society in Cochin/India end of Sept09.

More Lepto links:

See our Leptospirosis Cheque Presentation Press Release

View the RWNZ Fact Sheet on Leptopsirosis.

View the Massey Powerpoint Presentation on Leptopsirosis from our National Conference in Roturua in May 2007

View our Leptospirosis Poster on identification and prevention.
View the Department of Labour August 2007 report "Leptospirosis - Reducing the Impact on NZ Workplaces"

View Massey University's May 2008 paperInvestigating leptospirosis in New Zealand meat-workers: challenges and preliminary results - J. Benschop & Ors




Members' Area

Members who wish to enter the Members Only area of this site should contact to request the username and password


Quick Links

What's New
Moving Forward in Rural Health - NZ Institute of Rural Health discussion paper - June 2008
Climate Change Adaptation: Resources - MAF publication
The ABCs of ATVs, Waikato University Report

Guidelines for the Safe Use of ATVs on farms

Find out about current issues in our e-newsletter Rural Woman Alive

Read our latest magazine



National Conference 2009 Sponsors

Silver Sponsor:
Bronze Sponsor:
Rural Women New Zealand also thank:


© Rural Women New Zealand 1

Website design by