High prevalence of vector-borne pathogens in domestic and wild carnivores in Iraq.
Vector-borne diseases (VBDs) of domestic and wild carnivores are of major public health concern both in industrialized and developing countries, especially in poor socioeconomic settings. War-torn areas specifically suffer from absence of veterinary surveillance of VBDs, resulting in lack of scientific knowledge on this topic. To investigate occurence and prevalence of several vector-borne pathogens (VBPs) in some carnivore species from Iraq, blood samples (n=397) were obtained from 190 canids [97 stray dogs (Canis familiaris), 55 jackals (Canis aureus) and 38 red foxes (Vulpes vulpes)] and 207 stray cats (Felis catus) collected during a feral animal control and zoonotic disease surveillance program in several United States military bases in Iraq. The presence of Babesia spp., Hepatozoon spp., Ehrlichia spp., Anaplasma spp., Dirofilaria spp. and Leishmania spp. DNA was molecularly investigated. Out of 397 animals tested, 176 (44.3%; 95% CI: 39.5-49.2%) were positive for at least one pathogen with the highest prevalence in foxes (73.7%; 95% CI: 58-85%), followed by jackals (54.5%; 95% CI: 41.5-67%), dogs (38.1%; 29.1-48.1%) and cats (39.1%; 95% CI: 32.7-45.9%). Up to five pathogens were diagnosed in dogs. Hepatozoon canis was the most prevalent VBP in jackals (49.1%; 95% CI: 36.4-61.9%), foxes (47.3%; 95% CI: 32.5-62.7%) and dogs (33%; 95% CI: 24.4-42.8%), whereas Hepatozoon felis was the only species detected in cats (39.1%; 95% CI: 32.7-45.9%). A species of Babesia related to but different from Babesia lengau and designated as Babesia sp. MML was detected in six foxes (15.8%; 95% CI: 7.4-30.4%) and in one jackal (1.8%; 95% CI: 0.3-9.6%). This finding suggested the existence of a new species in the genus Babesia as inferred by molecular and phylogenetical analysis. Further, Babesia vulpes was identified only in two foxes (5.3%; 95% CI: 1.5-17.3%). All samples were negative for Leishmania spp. and Ehrlichia spp. Co-infection with H. canis and Babesia spp. was the most prevalent (5/176, 2.8%, i.e., 4 foxes and 1 jackal), followed by H. canis and Dirofilaria immitis (1/176, 1.3%, i.e., in 1 jackal), H. canis and Dirofilaria repens or Acanthocheilonema reconditum (1/176, 1.3%, i.e., in one dog, each). Data presented fill gaps into knowledge of VBPs in dogs, cats and wild canids in Iraq, indicating that different pathogens circulate amongst animal populations living in the same areas, possibly sharing the same tick vectors. Large-scale surveys are urgently needed to further assess VBPs distribution in Iraq and establish preventative strategies in domestic animals to minimize the risk of infection for animals and humans.