Invasive Species as Hosts of Zoonotic Infections: The Case of American Mink (Neovison vison) and Leishmania infantum

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Leishmania infantum produces an endemic disease in the Mediterranean Basin that affects humans and domestic and wild mammals, which can act as reservoir or minor host. In this study, we analyzed the presence of the parasite in wild American minks, an invasive species in Spain. We screened for L. infantum DNA by PCR using five primer pairs: Two targeting kinetoplast DNA (kDNA), and the rest targeting the ITS1 region, the small subunit of ribosomal RNA (SSU) and a repetitive sequence (Repeat region). The detection limit was determined for each method using a strain of L. infantum and a bone marrow sample from an infected dog. PCR approaches employing the Repeat region and kDNA (RV1/RV2 primers) showed higher sensitivity than the other PCR methods when control samples were employed. However, only PCR of the Repeat region and nested PCR of SSU (LnSSU) detected the parasite in the samples, while the other three were unable to do so. The majority of the analyzed animals (90.1%) tested positive. American mink may act as an incidental host of the disease for other mammals and should be further investigated, not only for their negative impact on the local fauna, but also as carriers of zoonotic diseases.
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