A review of piroplasmid infections in wild carnivores worldwide: importance for domestic animal health and wildlife conservation
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Piroplasmids are tick-borne protozoan parasites that infect blood cells (erythrocytes, lymphocytes or other leukocytes) or endothelial cells of numerous wild and domestic vertebrates worldwide. They cause severe disease in livestock, dogs, cats, wild mammals and, occasionally, in humans. Piroplasmid infections are prevalent in wild carnivores worldwide although there is limited information about their clinical and epidemiological importance. There are currently nine recognized species of Babesia, two of Theileria, two of Cytauxzoon and one of Rangelia infecting captive and wild carnivores, including members of Canidae, Felidae, Mustelidae, Procyonidae, Ursidae, Viverridae, Hyaenidae and Herpestidae in the Americas, Eurasia and Africa. However, the number of piroplasmid species is likely higher than currently accepted due to the reported existence of DNA sequences that may correspond to new species and the lack of studies on many host species and biogeographical areas. Indeed, many species have been recognized in the last few years with the advancement of molecular analyses. Disease and mortality have been documented in some wild carnivores, whereas other species appear to act as natural, subclinical reservoirs. Various factors (e.g. unnatural hosts, stress due to captivity, habitat degradation, climate fluctuation or immunosuppression) have been associated with disease susceptibility to piroplasmid infections in some species in captivity. We aimed to review the current knowledge on the epidemiology of piroplasmid infections in wild carnivores and associated tick vectors. Emphasis is given to the role of wild carnivores as reservoirs of clinical piroplasmosis for domestic dogs and cats, and to the importance of piroplasmids as disease agents for endangered carnivores.