Leishmania infantum infection was investigated in 202 wild carnivores, rodents and lagomorphs in Southeast Spain using a real-time PCR (rtPCR) in skin and organ samples, mostly spleen. Lesions compatible with leishmaniosis were not observed in any of the animals. Prevalence defined as the percentage of rtPCR-positive animals was 32% overall, and 45% in foxes (n = 69), 30% in rabbits (n = 80) and stone martens (n = 10), 19% in wood mice (n = 16), 0% in black rats (n = 10) and ranged between 0% and 100% in other minoritarian species including badgers, wild cats, wolves, raccoons, genets and hares. Most infected rabbits were rtPCR-positive in skin and not in spleen samples and the opposite was the case for foxes (p < 0.05). L. infantum prevalence was lowest in spring following months of non-exposure to phlebotomine sand fly vectors, and spatially matched recently estimated Phlebotomus perniciosus vector abundance and the prevalence of subclinical infection in dogs and humans. Prevalence increased with altitude and was greater in drier and less windy South and West compared to the coastal Southeast of the study area (p < 0.05). Genetic diversity of L. infantum from foxes, investigated by PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphisms of kinetoplast DNA, revealed B genotype in all animals, which is frequent in people and dogs in the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. The study provides further evidence that subclinical L. infantum infection is widespread in wildlife with prevalence depending on environmental factors and that parasite tissue tropism may vary according to host species. Moreover, it suggests that sylvatic and domestic transmission cycles are closely interconnected.
- Leishmania infantum
- PCR diagnosis