The first report on internal transcribed spacer region-based characterization of microfilaria in Asian elephants ( Elephas maximus) in Thailand

Vet World. 2021 Aug;14(8):2260-2266. doi: 10.14202/vetworld.2021.2260-2266. Epub 2021 Aug 28.


Background and aim: Filarial infections can significantly impact the health of both humans and animals. In elephants, filariasis has been associated with cutaneous dermatitis and skin nodules. However, molecular evidence for such infections is limited in Thailand. This study aimed to identify the morphological and molecular characteristics of microfilaria in captive Asian elephants in Thailand.

Materials and methods: Whole blood collected from the ear vein of 129 captive Asian elephants was hematologically analyzed, and the blood parasites were evaluated using three standard techniques: The microcapillary test, thin blood smears, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Results: Conventional PCR revealed that approximately 17% (22/129) of the sampled elephants were positive for microfilaria. Microscopy revealed that microfilariae are large, unsheathed, with extended nuclei, a short headspace, and a curved tail tapering at the end. Results of internal transcribed spacer region analysis show that the elephant microfilariae are closely related to Onchocerca spp. All of the elephants positive for microfilaria presented with neither skin lesion nor anemic signs. Microfilaria infection was not associated with age; however, microfilariae were more likely to be detected in male elephants due to differences in management systems.

Conclusion: This is the first study to provide both morphological and molecular evidence of microfilaria in Thai elephants. There is an urgent need to investigate the long-term and large-scale effects of microfilaria on the health of elephants.

Keywords: Asian elephant; Thailand; genotype; internal transcribed spacer; microfilaria.