The kind of leptospirosis manifested by severe jaundice was first described as a human disease in 1886 by A. Weil. Named Weil's disease the following year, the term was meant to designate a distinctive infectious jaundice, and it would not be known until much later that leptospirosis was caused by numerous leptospires that triggered various clinical syndromes. The first of the causative pathogens were independently discovered in 1915 by R. Inada among Japanese mine workers and by P. Uhlenhut and W. Fromme among German soldiers. Leptospira, a genus of the family Treponemataceae, order Spiro-chaetales, is a fine threadlike organism with hooked ends (see Figure VIII.81.1) that is pathogenic for humans and other mammals, producing meningitis, hepatitis, and nephritis both separately and together. In the past, the disease killed between 15 and 40 percent of those infected. Modern treatment has reduced mortality to about 5 percent. As a zoonosis, the disease is generally maintained in rodent reservoirs.

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