The importance of lepto vaccination in dairy herds

Leptospirosis, or lepto as it is commonly called, is a zoonosis – i.e. a disease of animals that can be transferred to humans; it is vital that your management and vaccination programme is robust, not only to protect your stock but also to protect you and your staff. The incidence of leptospirosis in humans has dropped dramatically since vaccines were introduced but there are still dozens of cases reported each year, predominantly in farm workers and meat workers.


The disease in cattle

Cattle and other livestock can be carriers of their own lepto serovar without showing any symptoms but all serovars can cause disease in humans. In dairy cattle lepto infection may cause abortion storms, redwater, a drop in production, rarely mastitis and in calves it can be fatal.


The disease in humans

There are a wide range of symptoms of lepto in humans ranging from mild flu-like symptoms through to meningitis and death. Other symptoms include severe headaches, fever, muscle pain, jaundice (from liver damage), photosensitivity, nausea and vomiting. Lepto can damage the kidneys and liver and patients often require hospitalisation. There have been some deaths.

Apart from the long-term health implications for the individual, the farm owner/employer may also face prosecution if they have failed to take all reasonable measures to protect their staff.


The epidemiology of lepto

Lepto is a bacterium. It can survive in water and soil for long periods in the right conditions (moist and out of sunlight). Animals infected with lepto will shed it in their urine. Humans can become infected through the membranes in their mouth, nose and eyes and through cuts in the skin. A vaccination programme is a really important part of preventing human and stock infection but staff education on the disease and the hygiene measures they can take to protect themselves is also vital.



All classes of stock need to be included in the vaccination programme.

  • Calves – All previously unvaccinated stock require a primary vaccination course of two shots four to six weeks apart. Calves can receive their first vaccination from as young as four to six weeks of age. If they are younger than three months of age when they receive their booster shot, then they should receive a third shot in the primary programme.
  • Cows and heifers – All previously vaccinated cattle should receive an annual booster vaccination. This may be timed to coincide with other management practices such as at pregnancy testing. With heifers, care needs to be taken to ensure that the gap between their final shot as calves and their first annual booster is not longer than 12 months.
  • Bulls – Herd bulls must be fully vaccinated the same as the females.
  • In-contact stock and other species – If you have steers or beefies running with the young stock these should be included in the vaccination programme. This also applies to other species such as the pet sheep or goat. It is strongly recommended that you do not have pigs on dairy farms – if you do then you should discuss a plan to minimise the risk with your veterinarian.

If you have any questions about tailoring a vaccination programme to fit your farming system, have a chat to your veterinarian.


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