Wild rabbits are Leishmania infantum reservoirs in southeastern Spain

Zoonoses Public Health. 2024 May 1. doi: 10.1111/zph.13139. Online ahead of print.


Objective: We contribute to the understanding of the transmission dynamics of Leishmania infantum suggesting the involvement of rabbits as wild reservoirs.

Results: The prevalence of infection was 86.0% (270/314 wild rabbits) ranging from 18.2% to 100% in natural geographical regions. The estimated average parasite load was 324.8 [CI 95% 95.3-554.3] parasites per mg of ear lobe ranging from 0 to 91,597 parasites/mg per tissue section.

Conclusions: A positive correlation was found between skin parasite load in wild rabbits and human incidence with evidence of the presence of the same L. infantum genotypes in rabbits and humans, providing new epidemiological and biological basis for the consideration of wild rabbits as a relevant L. infantum wild reservoir. Molecular parasite surveillance reflects the great genotypic variability of the parasite population in wild rabbits. Most of these genotypes have also been found to infect humans, dogs and sandflies in the region. Our findings also highlight that direct genotyping of the parasite in host tissues should be used for molecular surveillance of the parasite instead of cultured isolates.

Keywords: Leishmania infantum; Mediterranean hotspots; parasite molecular surveillance; reservoir network; vector‐borne diseases; wild rabbits.