Role of wild rabbits as reservoirs of leishmaniasis in a non-epidemic Mediterranean hot spot in Spain
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AuthorMartín Sánchez, Joaquina; Torres Medina, Nieves; Morillas Márquez, Francisco; Corpas López, Victoriano; Díaz Sáez, Victoriano
Leishmania infantumWild rabbitsReservoirPhlebotomus perniciosusTransmission cyclesHot spot
Joaquina Martín-Sánchez... [et al.]. Role of wild rabbits as reservoirs of leishmaniasis in a non-epidemic Mediterranean hot spot in Spain, Acta Tropica, Volume 222, 2021, 106036, ISSN 0001-706X, [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actatropica.2021.106036]
SponsorshipMinistry of Economy and Competitiveness, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid; Feder Funds for Regional Development from the European Union, "One way to make Europe"; Universidad de Granada/CBVA
There is limited information regarding the role of wild mammals in the transmission dynamics of Leishmania infantum. A potential human leishmaniasis hot spot was detected in southern Spain that could not be explained solely by canine leishmaniasis prevalence. The aim of this work was to analyse the involvement of wild rabbits as the main factor affecting this Mediterranean hot spot. A survey of wild rabbits, dogs and sand flies was conducted in the human cases environment. A nearby region without clinical leishmaniasis cases was used as reference control. 51 wild rabbits shot by hunters were analysed by molecular techniques. 1100 sand flies were captured and morphologically identified. Blood collected from patients’ relatives/ neighbours (n = 9) and dogs (n = 66) was used for molecular analysis and serology. In Mediterranean leishmaniasis hot spots such as Montefrío municipality (average incidence of 16.8 human cases per 100,000 inhabitants/year), wild rabbits (n = 40) support high L. infantum infection rates (100%) and heavy parasite burdens (average value: 503 parasites/mg) in apparently normal ear skin directly accessible to sand flies, enabling the existence of heavily parasitized Phlebotomus perniciosus females (12.5% prevalence). The prevalence of infection and median parasite load were very low among rabbits captured in Hu´escar (n = 11), a human clinical leishmaniasis-free area for the last 18 years. P. perniciosus was the most abundant Phlebotomus species in all the domestic/peridomestic microhabitats sampled, both indoors and outdoors. Accordingly, leishmaniasis is clustering in space and time at this local scale represented by Montefrío due to the proximity of two competent host reservoirs (dogs and heavily parasitized wild rabbits) associated with overlapping sylvatic and domestic transmission cycles through the main vector, P. perniciosus. We highlight the usefulness of determining the prevalence of infection and parasite burden in wild rabbits as a control leishmaniasis measure with the advantage that the use of the ear offers.