A molecular survey of Babesia spp. and Theileria spp. in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and their ticks from Thuringia, Germany

Nour-Addeen Najm, Elisabeth Meyer-Kayser, Lothar Hoffmann, Ingrid Herb, Veronika Fensterer, Kurt Pfister, Cornelia Silaghi
Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 2014, 5 (4): 386-91
Wild canines which are closely related to dogs constitute a potential reservoir for haemoparasites by both hosting tick species that infest dogs and harbouring tick-transmitted canine haemoparasites. In this study, the prevalence of Babesia spp. and Theileria spp. was investigated in German red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and their ticks. DNA extracts of 261 spleen samples and 1953 ticks included 4 tick species: Ixodes ricinus (n=870), I. canisuga (n=585), I. hexagonus (n=485), and Dermacentor reticulatus (n=13) were examined for the presence of Babesia/Theileria spp. by a conventional PCR targeting the 18S rRNA gene. One hundred twenty-one out of 261 foxes (46.4%) were PCR-positive. Out of them, 44 samples were sequenced, and all sequences had 100% similarity to Theileria annae. Similarly, sequencing was carried out for 65 out of 118 PCR-positive ticks. Theileria annae DNA was detected in 61.5% of the sequenced samples, Babesia microti DNA was found in 9.2%, and Babesia venatorum in 7.6% of the sequenced samples. The foxes were most positive in June and October, whereas the peak of tick positivity was in October. Furthermore, the positivity of the ticks was higher for I. canisuga in comparison to the other tick species and for nymphs in comparison to adults. The high prevalence of T. annae DNA in red foxes in this study suggests a reservoir function of those animals for T. annae. To our knowledge, this is the first report of T. annae in foxes from Germany as well as the first detection of T. annae and B. microti in the fox tick I. canisuga. Detection of DNA of T. annae and B. microti in three tick species collected from foxes adds new potential vectors for these two pathogens and suggests a potential role of the red fox in their natural endemic cycles.

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