Leishmania infantum in free-ranging hares, Spain, 2004-2010

Euro Surveill. 2013 Jul 25;18(30):20541. doi: 10.2807/1560-7917.es2013.18.30.20541.


Iberian hares (Lepus granatensis) were recently deemed responsible for an outbreak of human leishmaniasis affecting metropolitan Madrid, Spain. However, the reservoir potential of hares in Europe is poorly known. We report a retrospective survey on Leishmania infantum, the causal agent of zoonotic endemic leishmaniasis in the Mediterranean basin, infection status of Iberian, European (Le. europaeus) and Broom (Le. castroviejoi) hares in Spain. Spleen samples from 94 hares were tested by polymerase chain reaction. Sequencing and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) assays were performed on positive samples and RFLP patterns compared with those of strains reported in the scientific literature. DNA prevalence in hare spleen samples was 43.6% (95% confidence interval: 33.6-53.6). In all six regions studied at least one positive sample was found. RFLP revealed existence of specific hare strains of L. infantum differing from those reported in wild carnivores in Spain. The widespread presence of L. infantum in the most abundant Spanish hare species and the recent evidence of the ability of naturally infected hares to transmit the pathogen to Phlebotomus perniciosus, its main vector in the western Mediterranean, suggest that hares may have an unexpected role in the epidemiology of L. infantum in Spain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hares*
  • Leishmania infantum / genetics*
  • Leishmania infantum / isolation & purification
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / epidemiology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / parasitology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / veterinary*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spain / epidemiology