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Low serum total nitrite and nitrate levels in severe leptospirosis

Thilini Kalugalage1, Chaturaka Rodrigo2, Thamal Vithanage2, Pranitha Somaratne3, H Janaka De Silva4, Shiroma Handunnetti1 and Senaka Rajapakse2*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka

2 Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka

3 Medical Research Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka

4 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:206  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-206

Published: 6 May 2013



The relationship between inducible nitric oxide synthatase activity and disease severity in leptospirosis is unclear. Nitric oxide is converted to nitrites and nitrates, thus nitrite and nitrate levels (NOx) in serum are considered surrogate markers for nitric oxide. NOx are excreted through the kidneys, and elimination is diminished in renal impairment. We assessed the correlation of NOx with disease severity in patients with leptospirosis, compared with healthy controls and non-leptospirosis fever patients.


All patients admitted over a two-month period to the National Hospital, Colombo, Sri Lanka with a clinical picture suggestive of leptospirosis were included. Leptospirosis was confirmed by the microscopic agglutination test (titre≥400). Severe leptospirosis was defined by the presence of two or more of the following criteria: jaundice (bilirubin> 51.3 μmol/l), oliguria (urine output < 400 ml/day), serum creatinine> 133 μmol/l or blood urea > 25.5 mmol/l, or the presence of organ dysfunction. Non-leptospirosis fever patients and healthy volunteers were used as control groups. NOx levels were measured using a modified Griess reaction.


Forty patients were confirmed as having leptospirosis and 26 of them had severe disease. NOx levels were significantly higher in confirmed leptospirosis patients compared to healthy controls, MAT equivocal patients and non-leptospirosis fever patients (p<0.001). NOx concentrations were also significantly higher in patients with severe compared to mild leptospirosis (p<0.001). Once NOx levels were corrected for renal function, by using the ratio NOx/creatinine, NOx levels were actually significantly lower in patients with severe disease compared to other patients, and values were similar to those of healthy controls.


We postulate that high NOx levels may be protective against severe leptospirosis, and that finding low NOx levels (when corrected for renal function) in patients with leptospirosis may predict the development of severe disease and organ dysfunction.

Leptospirosis; Nitric oxide; Nitrate; Nitrite; Severity; Creatinine