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Babesial infection in the Madagascan flying fox, Pteropus rufus É. Geoffroy, 1803

Ranaivoson, Hafaliana C., Héraud, Jean-Michel, Goethert, Heidi K., Telford, Sam R., III, Rabetafika, Lydia, Brook, Cara E.
Parasites & vectors 2019 v.12 no.1 pp. 51
Babesia microti, Canidae, Felidae, Primates, Protozoa, Pteropus, adults, animal pathogens, chronic diseases, erythrocytes, frugivores, hosts, insectivores, males, microscopy, parasites, phylogeny, polymerase chain reaction, rodents, statistical analysis, wet season, Asia, Europe, Madagascar, North America, South America
BACKGROUND: Babesiae are erythrocytic protozoans, which infect the red blood cells of vertebrate hosts to cause disease. Previous studies have described potentially pathogenic infections of Babesia vesperuginis in insectivorous bats in Europe, the Americas and Asia. To date, no babesial infections have been documented in the bats of Madagascar, or in any frugivorous bat species worldwide. RESULTS: We used standard microscopy and conventional PCR to identify babesiae in blood from the endemic Madagascan flying fox (Pteropus rufus). Out of 203 P. rufus individuals captured between November 2013 and January 2016 and screened for erythrocytic parasites, nine adult males (4.43%) were infected with babesiae. Phylogenetic analysis of sequences obtained from positive samples indicates that they cluster in the Babesia microti clade, which typically infect felids, rodents, primates, and canids, but are distinct from B. vesperuginis previously described in bats. Statistical analysis of ecological trends in the data suggests that infections were most commonly observed in the rainy season and in older-age individuals. No pathological effects of infection on the host were documented; age-prevalence patterns indicated susceptible-infectious (SI) transmission dynamics characteristic of a non-immunizing persistent infection. CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, this study is the first report of any erythrocytic protozoan infecting Madagascan fruit bats and the first record of a babesial infection in a pteropodid fruit bat globally. Given the extent to which fruit bats have been implicated as reservoirs for emerging human pathogens, any new record of their parasite repertoire and transmission dynamics offers notable insights into our understanding of the ecology of emerging pathogens.