Research Article

Molecular evidence of prevalent dual piroplasma infections in North American raccoons (Procyon lotor)

A. J. BIRKENHEUERa1 c1, H. S. MARRa1, N. HLADIOa1 and A. E. ACTONa1

a1 North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Vector Borne Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, 4700 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27606, USA


Based on 18S rRNA sequence analyses 2 distinct genotypes of piroplasms have been described in raccoons. One genotype resides in the Babesia sensu stricto clade and the other in the Babesia microti-like clade. Since these organisms appear morphologically indistinguishable, it is unclear which strain is responsible for the majority of the infections in raccoons. In order to overcome these limitations we performed a molecular survey of raccoons using polymerase chain reaction assays specific for each genotype. We tested blood samples from 41 wild raccoons trapped in eastern North Carolina using PCR assays and found that 95% (39/41) had detectable piroplasm DNA. Ninety percent (37/41) of the samples contained Babesia sensu stricto DNA and 83% (34/41) samples contained Babesia microti-like DNA. DNA from both genotypes was present in 76% (31/41) samples suggesting a very high rate of co-infections. The presence of dual piroplasma infections in carnivores appears to be an uncommon finding. This study highlights the need for molecular assays for the accurate identification of piroplasma. Further studies are indicated to investigate the ability of these parasites to infect domestic animals as well as their zoonotic potential.

(Received April 19 2007)

(Revised July 07 2007)

(Accepted July 09 2007)

(Online publication September 04 2007)