Tick-borne diseases (TBDs) are caused by pathogens of human and veterinary concern representing a major public health issue worldwide. Although feline medicine has progressed much in the recent decades, data on feline TBDs (FeTBDs) remain scant. Therefore, this study aimed to assess the prevalence of apicomplexan parasite infections, associated risk factors and clinical-hematological abnormalities in domestic feline populations from countries of the Mediterranean basin. Blood and serum samples from cats (n = 600) living in France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain were collected along with animal data (i.e., age, sex, breed, housing conditions and geographical origin), clinical signs and laboratory blood test parameters. Cats were grouped according to their age as kitten (up to one year), young (between one and six years), mature (between seven and ten years) and senior (older than ten years). Blood samples were tested for Hepatozoon spp. and piroplasmids by conventional PCR targeting 18S rRNA gene. The overall prevalence of Hepatozoon spp. infection was 14.5%, being significantly higher in cats from Greece (30%) and Portugal (23%), followed by Spain (15%), Israel (15%) and France (4%). Cats from Italy scored negative. Hepatozoon felis was identified in 86 animals, with three different sequence types and H. silvestris was detected in one shelter cat from Portugal. No piroplasmid DNA was amplified. The risk of Hepatozoon spp. infection was related to feline geographical provenience, housing condition and age. No statistical correlation was reported with any clinical signs, while increased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) activity was the only laboratory abnormality significantly associated (p = 0.03) with the infection. Data suggest a high circulation of H. felis, and only occasionally of H. silvestris, within domestic feline populations in the Mediterranean basin, mainly in shelter or free roaming and young cats with asymptomatic or subclinical infection.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was partially supported by Elanco Animal Health GmbH (Germany, Europe). The funders had no role in data collection, data analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
This research was supported by EU funding within the Next Generation EU-MUR PNRR Extended Partnership initiative on Emerging Infectious Diseases (Project no. PE00000007 , INF-ACT).
- Clinical-pathological findings
- Hepatozoon felis
- Hepatozoon silvestris