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Retrospective analyses of fox feces by real-time PCR to identify new endemic areas of Echinococcus multilocularis in France

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Alveolar echinococcosis is considered to be the most serious zoonosis in the Northern Hemisphere’s cold or temperate regions. In Europe, the parasite has a sylvatic life cycle based on predator–prey interactions, mainly between red foxes and small rodents. Echinococcus multilocularis has been observed to have spread across Europe over the last three decades. In France, a westward spread of the parasite’s known endemic areas has been described. In this study, a retrospective analysis of fox feces by real-time PCR was carried out in four départements not previously investigated and considered free along with two endemic control departments. The fox feces collected from 2000 to 2004 were analyzed by real-time PCR. Fecal prevalence in the two endemic departments of Doubs and Côte d’Or were estimated at 12 % [6.4–20.0 %] and 4.2 % [1.1–10.3 %], respectively. No positive samples were identified among the 72 feces collected in Drôme or the 112 from Allier, which is consistent with the very low expected prevalence should the parasite be present. Three positive samples were recovered in the Seine-Maritime and Hautes-Alpes départements, resulting in a prevalence of 3.5 % [0.7–10.0 %] and 2.5 % [0.5–7.1 %], respectively. From now on, Hautes-Alpes constitutes the new southern border of the endemic areas in France and confirms the southward expansion previously highlighted. Real-time copro-PCR proved useful in identifying new endemic areas even with low prevalence. Due to the spread of E. multilocularis in France and associated zoonotic risk, it is necessary to expand surveillance in order to fully define all the country’s endemic areas. On a continental scale, the development and harmonization of surveillance programs are now needed in order to obtain a global overview of the presence of E. multilocularis and to tailor potential countermeasures.

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The authors are grateful to all the hunters from the departmental hunting associations and from the National Game Office for the collection of fox feces which made this study possible, and to Jean-Pierre Quéré (INRA, France) for relevant information on the presence of rodent species in the Alps.

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Correspondence to Gérald Umhang.

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Umhang, G., Comte, S., Hormaz, V. et al. Retrospective analyses of fox feces by real-time PCR to identify new endemic areas of Echinococcus multilocularis in France. Parasitol Res 115, 4437–4441 (2016).

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