Leptospirosis: An ignored cause of acute renal failure in Taiwan

Chih Wei Yang, Ming Jeng Pan, Mai Szu Wu, Yu Ming Chen, Yu Tang Tsen, Chun Liang Lin, Cheng Hung Wu, Chiu Ching Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Leptospirosis, caused by a spirochete, is the most common zoonosis in domestic or wild animals. Animals excrete infected urine in soil or water and may cause human infections through abrased wound, mucosa, conjunctiva, or by swallowing contaminated water. Clinical presentations of leptospirosis are mostly subclinical. Five to ten percent of leptospirosis are fatal, causing fever, hemorrhage, jaundice, and acute renal failure (Weil's syndrome). Leptospirosis has been ignored as a cause of acute renal failure in Taiwan. We report two patients with leptospirosis who presented with high fever, abdominal pain, jaundice, and acute renal failure. Patient 1 died on day 12 of admission of multiple organ failure associated with pancytopenia, hypogammaglobulinemia, and reactive hemophagocytosis. Leptospirosis was recognized after death. Patient 2 was admitted with similar presentations 2 weeks later. Penicillin and doxycycline were given early in the course, and azotemia, jaundice, respiratory failure, and aseptic meningitis gradually improved. Renal biopsy showed interstitial nephritis. Several tubular clearance tests showed proximal tubular defect with severe bicarbonate wasting (FeHCO3- 20.9%) and incomplete type II renal tubular acidosis without affecting the distal nephron. After 80 days of treatment, this patient was discharged with recovery of conscious level and renal function. This is the first leptospirosis patient with detailed tubular functional and morphological studies of the kidney. Diagnosis of leptospirosis was made by microscopic agglutination test (MAT) for antibody to leptospira and by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for leptospira DNA in blood and urine (interrogans serogroup australis in case 1 and Leptospira borgpetersenii serogroup ballum in case 2). Because active surveillance has resulted in 13 cases diagnosed as leptospirosis islandwide thereafter, underestimation and ignorance of leptospirosis as a cause of acute renal failure may occur in Taiwan. Therefore, an area with a low leptospirosis incidence may actually have a very high incidence. Leptospirosis should be suspected in febrile patients with jaundice and renal failure when pathogens cannot be identified by traditional culture for microorganisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)840-845
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Kidney Diseases
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute renal failure
  • Interstitial nephritis
  • Leptospirosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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