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The Role of Peridomestic Animals in the Eco-Epidemiology of Anaplasma phagocytophilum


Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an important tick-borne zoonotic agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA). In Europe, the Ixodes ticks are the main vector responsible for A. phagocytophilum transmission. A wide range of wild animals is involved in the circulation of this pathogen in the environment. Changes in populations of vertebrates living in different ecosystems impact the ecology of ticks and the epidemiology of tick-borne diseases. In this study, we investigated four species, Western European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), northern white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), and the common blackbird (Turdus merula), to describe their role in the circulation of A. phagocytophilum in urban and periurban ecosystems. Ten different tissues were collected from cadavers of the four species, and blood and ear/skin samples from live blackbirds and hedgehogs. Using qPCR, we detected a high rate of A. phagocytophilum: Western European hedgehogs (96.4%), northern white-breasted hedgehogs (92.9%), Eurasian red squirrels (60%), and common blackbirds (33.8%). In the groEL gene, we found nine genotypes belonging to three ecotypes; seven of the genotypes are associated with HGA symptoms. Our findings underline the role of peridomestic animals in the ecology of A. phagocytophilum and indicate that cadavers are an important source of material for monitoring zoonotic pathogens. Concerning the high prevalence rate, all investigated species play an important role in the circulation of A. phagocytophilum in municipal areas; however, hedgehogs present the greatest anaplasmosis risk for humans. Common blackbirds and squirrels carry different A. phagocytophilum variants some of which are responsible for HGA.

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The authors would like to thank Maryna Golovchenko and Barbora Černá Bolfíková for the molecular identification in hedgehogs, ornithologists Oldřich Sychra and Petr Veselý and their teams for help with bird trapping, and Jana Kvičerová with the hedgehog trapping and sampling, and to all the volunteers who participated in the cadaver reporting and collection.


This work was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (grant number 17-16009S). JV was financially supported by the grant CePaViP (CZ.02.1.01/16_019/0000759). HS and MF were financially supported by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport (VWS), and by a grant from the European Interreg North Sea Region program as part of the NorthTick project.

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Conceptualization: David Modrý, Jan Votýpka, Lada Hofmannová. Methodology: David Modrý, Ludek Zurek, Lada Hofmannová, Kristýna Hrazdilová. Formal analysis and investigation: Paulina Maria Lesiczka, Manoj Fonville, Karolina Majerová. Writing—original draft preparation: Paulina Maria Lesiczka, David Modrý. Writing—review and editing: David Modrý, Ludek Zurek, Jan Votýpka, Hein Sprong, Kristýna Hrazdilová. Funding acquisition: David Modrý, Daniel Růžek, Hein Sprong. Resources: David Modrý, Lada Hofmannová, Václav Hönig, Petr Papežík. Supervision: David Modrý

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Correspondence to David Modrý.

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Capture and treatment were performed in agreement with the Czech legislation (Act No 246/1992 Coll.) and protocols (62-2016 UVPS Brno and BC SOS 1520/2017) approved by the responsible authorities of the Czech Republic.

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Supplementary Information


Number of tissues from the four species collected in the Czech Republic and the positivity of the tissue samples for Anaplasma phagocytophilum. (DOCX 14 kb)


Prevalence of Anaplasma phagocytophilum based on results obtained from all organs from the four species from the Czech Republic in relation to sex and age. L, living animals; C, cadavers; n, number of individuals. (DOCX 14 kb)


MLVA results based on five different loci for cadavers and live animals collected in the Czech Republic. Grey indicates positive samples in the analysis; white indicates no effective results. aPositive control. (DOCX 15 kb)

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Lesiczka, P.M., Hrazdilová, K., Majerová, K. et al. The Role of Peridomestic Animals in the Eco-Epidemiology of Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Microb Ecol 82, 602–612 (2021).

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  • Tick-borne diseases
  • HGA
  • Urban wildlife
  • Hedgehog
  • Squirrel
  • Blackbird