Background: Anaplasma phagocytophilum is characterized by a worldwide distribution and distinguished from other Anaplasmataceae by the broadest range of mammalian hosts and high genetic diversity. The role carnivores play in the life cycle of A. phagocytophilum in Europe is uncertain. Currently, only the red fox is considered a suitable reservoir host. In this study, we focused on native and invasive medium-sized carnivore species that live in sympatry and represent the most abundant species of wild carnivores in Poland.
Methods: A total of 275 individual spleen samples from six carnivore species (Vulpes vulpes, Meles meles, Procyon lotor, Nyctereutes procyonoides and Martes spp.) were screened combining nested PCR and sequencing for A. phagocytophilum targeting a partial groEL gene with subsequent phylogenetic analysis inferred by the maximum likelihood method.
Results: The DNA of A. phagocytophilum was detected in 16 of 275 individuals (5.8%). Eight unique genetic variants of A. phagocytophilum were obtained. All detected haplotypes clustered in the clade representing European ecotype I. Three variants belonged to the subclade with European human cases together with strains from dogs, foxes, cats, and wild boars.
Conclusions: While carnivores might have a restricted role in the dissemination of A. phagocytophilum due to their relatively low to moderate infection rates, they hold significance as hosts for ticks. Consequently, they could contribute to the transmission of tick-borne infections to humans indirectly, primarily through tick infection. This underscores the potential risk of urbanization for the A. phagocytophilum life cycle, further emphasizing the need for comprehensive understanding of its ecological dynamics.
Keywords: Anaplasma phagocytophilum; Carnivores; Invasive species; Martes spp.; Meles meles; Nyctereutes procyonides; Procyon lotor; Vulpes vulpes.
© 2023. BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.