Investigating the role of wild carnivores in the epidemiology of bovine neosporosis

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Neospora caninum is a protozoan parasite, primarily associated with bovine abortion. The only definitive hosts discovered to date are carnivores. This study aimed to identify the role of mammalian carnivores in the epidemiology of bovine neosporosis. A sample bank of serum, fecal and brain samples was established: American mink (Mustela vison), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), pine martens (Martes martes), badgers (Meles meles), stoats (Mustela erminea), otters (Lutra lutra) and feral ferrets (Mustela putorius). Approximately 1% of mink and 1% of fox samples were positive by IFAT. According to PCR analysis of DNA extracted from brain tissue, 3% of the mink, 4% of the otters and 6% of the foxes examined were infected with N. caninum. All fecal samples tested negative for N. caninum DNA (n = 311), suggesting that the species that tested positive were intermediate not definitive hosts. This is the first time that tissues from mustelids have tested positive for N. caninum. The need to test 2 relatively large (∼200 mg) targeted parts of the brain to avoid false negatives was also identified. The relatively low prevalence of N. caninum in Irish carnivores suggests that the local ecology of a species has an important influence on its epidemiological role.

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