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In situ hybridization and sequence analysis reveal an association of Plasmodium spp. with mortalities in wild passerine birds in Austria


Native European passerine birds are frequently clinically inapparent carriers of haemosporidian parasites of the genus Plasmodium. Clinical disease and death are only exceptionally reported. In the present study, tissue samples of 233 wild passerine birds found dead in Eastern Austria were examined by in situ hybridization (ISH) and partial cytochrome B gene sequence analysis for the presence, abundance and taxonomic assignment of Plasmodium spp. In 34 cases (14.6 %), ISH yielded a positive result with large numbers of developmental stages in different cell types of the spleen, liver, brain and lung. The abundance of the tissue stages, which was comparable to fatal cases of avian malaria in penguins, suggested a major contribution to the cause of death. Genetic analysis revealed infections with representatives of three different valid species of Plasmodium, Plasmodium elongatum, Plasmodium lutzi and Plasmodium vaughani. Genetically identical parasite lineages had been found in a previous study in penguins kept in the Vienna zoo, providing evidence for the role of wild birds as reservoir hosts. Further, this study provides evidence that several species of Plasmodium are able to abundantly proliferate in endemic wild birds ultimately resulting in mortalities.

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The authors wish to thank Karin Fragner, Gudrun Kurz and Klaus Bittermann for their excellent technical support. The present study was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) grant P20926.

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The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

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Correspondence to Herbert Weissenböck.

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Dinhopl, N., Nedorost, N., Mostegl, M.M. et al. In situ hybridization and sequence analysis reveal an association of Plasmodium spp. with mortalities in wild passerine birds in Austria. Parasitol Res 114, 1455–1462 (2015).

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  • Avian malaria
  • Plasmodium
  • Wild birds
  • In situ hybridization
  • Cytochrome B gene
  • Austria