Biodiversity and leptospirosis risk: A case of pathogen regulation?
Well balanced ecosystems have an essential role in disease regulation, and consequently their correct functioning is increasingly recognised as imperative for maintaining human health. Disruptions to ecosystems have been found to increase the risk of several diseases, including Hantavirus, Lyme disease, Ross River virus, malaria and Ciguatera fish poisoning. Leptospirosis is a globally important emerging zoonosis, caused by spirochaete bacteria, borne by many mammalian hosts, and also transmitted environmentally. We propose that leptospirosis incidence in humans is also linked to ecosystem disruption, and that reduced biodiversity (the diversity of species within an ecological community) may be associated with increased leptospirosis incidence. To investigate this hypothesis, the relationship between biodiversity levels of island nations and their annual leptospirosis incidence rates (adjusted for GDP per capita) was examined by linear correlation and regression. Supportive, statistically significant negative associations were obtained between leptospirosis incidence and (a) total number of species (r(2)=0.69, p<0.001) and (b) number of mammal species (r(2)=0.80, p<0.001) in univariate analysis. In multivariable analysis only the number of mammal species remained significantly associated (r(2)=0.81, p=0.007). An association between biodiversity and reduced leptospirosis risk, if supported by further research, would emphasise the importance of managing the emergence of leptospirosis (and other infectious diseases) at a broader, ecosystem level.