Leptospirosis - its causes, and strategies to lessen its impact will be the subject of a presentation to the Hawke's Bay District Health Board this week.

Massey University associate professor Jackie Benschop co-directs the Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory in the School of Veterinary Science at the university and will also be meeting with Maori health workers and the Meatworkers Union of Aotearoa during a visit to Hawke's Bay on Wednesday.

Transmitted by bacteria in animal urine (the likes of sheep, cattle, deer, alpaca) the disease was often under-reported as its symptoms were similar to that of the flu, but had the potential to have severe, chronic repercussions, she said.

There had been 13 cases of the disease reported in Hawke's Bay over the last year, of 142 reported nationwide, but she said it may be much more than that.


"For every one case notified, there are typically five to 10 other cases in the community that would be less severe, and of those cases notified about one in three will go on to have long-term health effects."

She said the aim of the presentation was part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness around the symptoms and prevention and also to discuss new research that funding was being sought for.

"Not so much in Hawke's Bay, but in places like Waikato, Northland and Auckland, there's been cases associated with flooding, which is something that we have seen internationally."

In heavy rain events, animals and humans often came together more, and the bacteria could survive in water, so contamination could come from broader sources than direct contact with urine.

Dr Benschop said that over the last 10 years in Hawke's Bay, people who had contracted the disease were mainly working age men who were either meatworkers or farmers.

"In the last few years though we have seen slightly more women and people beyond those traditional occupations, which indicates more of an environmental exposure."