Influence of the biotope on the tick infestation of cattle and on the tick-borne pathogen repertoire of cattle ticks in Ethiopia

Sándor Hornok, Getachew Abichu, Marina L Meli, Balázs Tánczos, Kinga M Sulyok, Miklós Gyuranecz, Enikő Gönczi, Róbert Farkas, Regina Hofmann-Lehmann
PloS One 2014, 9 (9): e106452

BACKGROUND: The majority of vector-borne infections occur in the tropics, including Africa, but molecular eco-epidemiological studies are seldom reported from these regions. In particular, most previously published data on ticks in Ethiopia focus on species distribution, and only a few molecular studies on the occurrence of tick-borne pathogens or on ecological factors influencing these. The present study was undertaken to evaluate, if ticks collected from cattle in different Ethiopian biotopes harbour (had access to) different pathogens.

METHODS: In South-Western Ethiopia 1032 hard ticks were removed from cattle grazing in three kinds of tick biotopes. DNA was individually extracted from one specimen of both sexes of each tick species per cattle. These samples were molecularly analysed for the presence of tick-borne pathogens.

RESULTS: Amblyomma variegatum was significantly more abundant on mid highland, than on moist highland. Rhipicephalus decoloratus was absent from savannah lowland, where virtually only A. cohaerens was found. In the ticks Coxiella burnetii had the highest prevalence on savannah lowland. PCR positivity to Theileria spp. did not appear to depend on the biotope, but some genotypes were unique to certain tick species. Significantly more A. variegatum specimens were rickettsia-positive, than those of other tick species. The presence of rickettsiae (R. africae) appeared to be associated with mid highland in case of A. variegatum and A. cohaerens. The low level of haemoplasma positivity seemed to be equally distributed among the tick species, but was restricted to one biotope type.

CONCLUSIONS: The tick biotope, in which cattle are grazed, will influence not only the tick burden of these hosts, but also the spectrum of pathogens in their ticks. Thus, the presence of pathogens with alternative (non-tick-borne) transmission routes, with transstadial or with transovarial transmission by ticks appeared to be associated with the biotope type, with the tick species, or both, respectively.

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