Identification of trypanosomatids and blood feeding preferences of phlebotomine sand fly species common in Sicily, Southern Italy

Jessica Maria Abbate, Carla Maia, André Pereira, Francesca Arfuso, Gabriella Gaglio, Maria Rizzo, Giulia Caracappa, Gabriele Marino, Matthias Pollmeier, Salvatore Giannetto, Emanuele Brianti

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In this study, the presence of Leishmania DNA and blood feeding sources in phlebotomine sand fly species commonly present in Sicily were investigated. A total of 1,866 female sand flies including 176 blood fed specimens were sampled over two seasons in five selected sites in Sicily (southern Italy). Sergentomyia minuta (n = 1,264) and Phlebotomus perniciousus (n = 594) were the most abundant species at all the sites, while three other species from the genus Phlebotomus (i.e., P. sergenti n = 4, P. perfiliewi n = 3 and P. neglectus n = 1) were only sporadically captured. Twenty-eight out of the 1,866 (1.5%) sand flies tested positive for Leishmania spp. Leishmania tarentolae DNA was identified in 26 specimens of S. minuta, while the DNA of Leishmania donovani complex was detected in a single specimen each of S. minuta and P. perniciosus. Interestingly, seven S. minuta specimens (0.4%) tested positive for reptilian Trypanosoma sp. Blood sources were successfully identified in 108 out of 176 blood fed females. Twenty-seven out of 82 blood sources identified in fed females of P. perniciosus were represented by blood of wild rabbit, S. minuta mainly fed on humans (16/25), while the sole P. sergenti fed specimen took a blood meal on rat. Other vertebrate hosts including horse, goat, pig, dog, chicken, cow, cat and donkey were recognized as blood sources for P. perniciosus and S. minuta, and, surprisingly, no reptilian blood was identified in blood-fed S. minuta specimens. Results of this study agree with the well-known role of P. perniciosus as vector of L. infantum in the western Mediterranean; also, vector feeding preferences herein described support the hypothesis on the involvement of lagomorphs as sylvatic reservoirs of Leishmania. The detection of L. donovani complex in S. minuta, together with the anthropophilic feeding-behaviour herein observed, warrants further research to clarify the capacity of this species in the transmission of pathogens to humans and other animals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0229536
Pages (from-to)e229536-e229552
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2020


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