Raccoons (Procyon lotor) and striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) as potential reservoirs of leptospira spp. in California

Mary H. Straub, Molly Church, Elle Glueckert, Janet E. Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Leptospirosis is a globally important, fatal disease of humans, and over 160 species of animals are associated with more than 250 bacterial serovars in 64 species, but its ecology varies regionally and has changed over time with expansion of human development on previously agricultural and wild land. Sporadic human cases and clusters of canine leptospirosis, primarily attributable to Leptospira interrogans serogroup Pomona, have been detected in northern California. Small mesocarnivores such as raccoons and skunks frequent peridomestic space across much of the western United States and could serve as reservoirs for human and canine leptospirosis. We aimed to summarize the prevalence of infection with pathogenic leptospires in skunk and raccoon renal and urinary samples across broad geographic zones in California, and to determine whether prevalence changed during wet and dry seasons, and as functions of host species and demographic characters. Overall, 25.6% (22/86 tested) of raccoons and 28.5% (39/137 tested) of skunks were PCR-positive for Leptospira spp. in either renal tissue or urine, with leptospiral DNA in 22.0% of kidney samples and 18.8% of urine samples from raccoons and 27.8% and 14.5% of kidney and urine samples from skunks, respectively. Raccoons from the Central California and skunks from the San Francisco Bay Area had the highest overall PCR-prevalence (35.7% and 44.4%), respectively, and adults were more likely to be PCR-positive for Leptospira spp. than juveniles. There was moderate agreement between urine and renal tissue Leptospira spp. PCR with sensitivity for both host species in renal tissue of 0.86-0.97 and 0.42-0.64 in urine. Cases of human leptospirosis are thought to be underrecognized in the continental United States and possibly increasing in some states, including California. Our data document regionally high rates of infection in common mesocarnivores, which can pose a threat to humans and dogs, revealing an important periurban epidemiological cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)418-426
Number of pages9
JournalVector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Leptospira
  • Mephitis mephitis
  • mesocarnivore
  • Procyon lotor
  • raccoon
  • skunk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology


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