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Volume 19, Number 3—March 2013

Etymologia

Etymologia: Leptospira

Suggested citation for this article

Leptospira [lep′to-spi′rə]

From the Greek leptos (slender) and speira (coil), a genus of bacteria consisting of single, finely coiled, motile, aerobic cells. In 1886, German physician Adolf Weil described a clinical syndrome characterized by splenomegaly, jaundice, and nephritis, although the disease was likely recognized in ancient China as an occupational hazard of rice farming. The organism was first described in 1907 by Arthur Stimson, who observed spirochetes with curved ends in the kidneys of a patient thought to have died of yellow fever. He named it Spirochaeta interrogans because it looked like a question mark.

The cause of Weil’s disease was isolated independently in 1915 in Japan and Germany. In Japan, Inada et al. detected spirochetes, which they named Spirochaeta icterohaemorrhagiae, in the blood of coal miners with infectious jaundice. In Germany, 2 groups of physicians (Uhlenhuth et al. and Hubener et al.) studied soldiers afflicted with “French disease” in the trenches of northeastern France. The Germans were arguing over priority, however, and overlooked the publications by Inada’s group, which predated their own by 8 months. The genus Leptospira was suggested in 1917 by Hideyo Noguchi “on account of its fine and minute windings.”

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References

  1. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 32nd ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.
  2. Inada R, Ido Y, Hoki R, Kaneko R, Ito H. The etiology, mode of infection, and specific therapy of Weil’s disease (spirochaetosis icterohaemorrhagica). J Exp Med. 1916;23:377402 and. DOIPubMed
  3. Levett PN. Leptospirosis. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2001;14:296326 and. DOIPubMed
  4. Noguchi H. Spirochaeta icterohaemorrhagiae in American wild rats and its relation to the Japanese and European strains. J Exp Med. 1917;25:75563 and. DOIPubMed
  5. Vijayachari P, Sugunan AP, Shriram AN. Leptospirosis: an emerging global public health problem. J Biosci. 2008;33:55769 and. DOIPubMed

Suggested citation for this article: Etymologia: Leptospira. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2013 Mar [date cited]. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/3/et-1903.htm

DOI: 10.3201/eid1903.ET1903

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