New insights into leptospirosis (Mee Una) in Sri Lanka

Researchers from Rajarata Leptospirosis Research Laboratory confirms multiple species of Leptospira causing human leptospirosis in Sri lanka.

The leptospirosis research team from the Leptospirosis research laboratory, DoCM, FMAS revealed the presence of at least five different species of organisms causing leptospirosis in in Sri Lanka.

Five researchers from the Leptospirosis lab contributed to this work. From the top left corner, Chamila Kappagoda, Shalka Srimantha, Janith Warnasekara, Indika Senevirathna and Dinesha Jayasundara.

Commonly known as “Mee Una”, leptospirosis is a lethal disease affecting mainly farmers in Sri Lanka. The disease was known to the Sri Lankan community way before it was described in the medical community. Researchers believe that the fever described in folklore as due to “red eyed demon” is a classical description of leptospirosis. The FMAS Leptospirosis researcher Dr.Janith Warnasekara previously estimated an average 700 deaths every year due to Leptospirosis in Sri Lanka. (read how common is leptospirosis in Sri Lanka)

The primary work by Dr.Dinesha Jayasundara on isolation of the causative organism shows that at least five different species belongs to the genes Leptospira is causing human disease in Sri Lanka. The severity of the disease as well as outcomes are expected to be vary, based on the causative organism. This work is confirming the literature based estimation of organisms causing leptospirosis in Sri Lanka by the same research group (By Dr. Chamidri Naotunna and colleagues) some times back. (read the original article here)

Mee Una was extensively investigated first by the group led by Dr.Nithyananda and colleagues from the MRI in 60’s and 70’s. Their work has led to isolation of Leptospira strains with local names; Piyasena, Geyaweera, Weerasinghe, Wumalasena, Simon and Alice, most of which are in reference laboratories around the word. The work has not been continued since until the leptospirosis out break in 2008 and the global attention to Sri Lanka after a paper in prestigious Lancet Infectious Disease (read the Lancet ID paper here).

Actual and estimated number of hospital admissions from 2006 to 2015 in Sri Lanka.
Estimates cases of leptospirosis in Sri Lanka 2004-15 (reproduced from Warnasekara et al 2019 article)

The “Lepto Lab” was established in 2016, as a collaborative work between University of California, San Diego with the initiation of Prof. Joesph Vinetz and Prof. Suneth Agampodi. The grant was extended to the fifth year in 2019 with collaboration of Yale University (read more). The research laboratory has extended its’ diagnostic services to all hospitals in the province as well as researchers and physicians who need the laboratory support for diagnostic facilities. So far, more than 1700 patient samples were tested in the lab as a part of this service to treating physicians using state of the arts real time PCR techniques. The laboratory and the team is dedicated to provide assistant to any researcher interested in leptospirosis investigations.

This research work and researchers was awarded best research in 2018 ACS research awards, International Leptospirosis Society Early Career Award (read more) and prestigious Marcolongo lecture in the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2016.

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Department of Community Medicine