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Hydroclimatic drivers of highly seasonal leptospirosis incidence suggest prominent soil reservoir of pathogenic Leptospira spp. in rural western China

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Climate exerts complex influences on leptospirosis transmission, affecting human behavior, zoonotic host population dynamics, and survival of the pathogen in the environment. Here, we describe the spatiotemporal distribution of leptospirosis incidence reported to China’s National Infectious Disease Surveillance System from 2004–2014 in an endemic region in western China, and employ distributed lag models at annual and sub-annual scales to analyze its association with hydroclimatic risk factors and explore evidence for the potential role of a soil reservoir in the transmission of Leptospira spp. More than 97% of the 2,934 reported leptospirosis cases occurred during the harvest season between August and October, and most commonly affected farmers (83%). Using a distributed lag Poisson regression framework, we characterized incidence rate ratios (IRRs) associated with interquartile range increases in precipitation of 3.45 (95% confidence interval 2.57–4.64) over 0-1-year lags, and 1.90 (1.18–3.06) over 0-15-week lags. Adjusting for soil moisture decreased IRRs for precipitation at both timescales (yearly adjusted IRR: 1.05, 0.74–1.49; weekly adjusted IRR: 1.36, 0.72–2.57), suggesting precipitation effects may be mediated through soil moisture. Increased soil moisture was positively associated with leptospirosis at both timescales, suggesting that the survival of pathogenic Leptospira spp. in moist soils may be a critical control on harvest-associated leptospirosis transmission in the study region. These results support the hypothesis that soils may serve as an environmental reservoir and may play a significant yet underrecognized role in leptospirosis transmission.

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