Molecular Detection of Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia odocoilei, Babesia species and Borrelia burgdorferi Sensu Lato in Songbirds

Abstract

The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is known to carry various tick-borne zoonotic
pathogens with the potential to cause debilitating human and animal diseases. Juvenile
I. scapularis parasitize songbirds and, perhaps, these avifauna are competent hosts of
common microbial pathogens. We extracted brachial venous blood from 18 groundforaging passerine birds that were parasitized by I. scapularis larvae and nymphs. Using
molecular identifi cation, namely PCR, DNA sequencing, and Basic Local Alignment
Search Tool (BLAST), we targeted Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia spp. and
Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. Overall, 15 (83%) of 18 passerine birds were positive
for 3 microbial zoonotic pathogens that comprised of A. phagocytophilum (n = 8),
Babesia odocoilei (n = 6), Babesia spp. 20-5A74 (n = 1), and B. burgdorferi sensu lato
(n = 9). The pathogen load consisted of 8 singles, 5 doubles, and 2 triples. One novel
Babesia sp. (Babesia spp. 20-5A74) was found, and the remaining Babesia infections
were B. odocoilei. Our fi ndings reveal that ground-foraging, passerine birds are avian
hosts of zoonotic pathogens. We provide the fi rst-ever documentation that songbirds
are hosts of B. odocoilei. Based on our data, B. odocoilei outnumbered other Babesia
spp., and elucidated the authentic fact that B. odocoilei is the predominant Babesia sp.
in North America. As avian hosts, passerine birds play a signifi cant role in the enzootic
transmission cycle of B. burgdorferi sensu lato, A. phagocytophilum, and Babesia species.

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