Leptospirosis serology in the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) from urban Sydney, Australia.


The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is indeed a common marsupial in major cities of Australia. This species is known to be susceptible to leptospirosis and often lives in close contact with humans, raising concerns about the potential for transmission of this disease in urban areas. A total of 192 brushtail possum blood samples were collected from 136 individuals in suburban areas of metropolitan Sydney from November 2002 to November 2004. Sera were screened against a reference panel of 21 Leptospira spp. using the microscopic agglutination test. Leptospiral antibodies were detected in 9.6% (13/136) of tested brushtail possums and represented two serovars; antibodies to Leptospira interrogans serovar Hardjo were most frequently identified (11/136). A representative of the exotic sero-group Ballum, most likely serovar Arborea, was found in two of 136 brushtail possums. Exposure to leptospirosis seemed to be associated with age, as older animals had a higher incidence, but there was no distinction in relation to gender. Antibody prevalence varied between the different sampling sites and seropositive animals were clustered and restricted to a few sites. These data support the possible role of brushtail possums as a maintenance host for Leptospira spp. in urban environments and also identified them as a previously unknown and potential source of serovar Arborea.