Molecular Detection of Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia odocoilei, Babesia species and Borrelia burgdorferi Sensu Lato in Songbirds

John D Scott1 *, Elena McGoey2, Ana Morales3 and Risa R Pesapane2,4 1 Upper Grand Tick Centre, 365 St. David Street South, Fergus, Ontario, N1M 2L7, Canada 2 School of Environmental and Natural Resources, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA 3 McGill Bird Observatory, Ste Anne de Bellevue, QC, Canada H9X 0A6 4 Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, 1920 Coffey Rd., Columbus, OH 43210, USA


The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is known to carry various tick-borne zoonotic pathogens with the potential to cause debilitating human and animal diseases. Juvenile I. scapularis parasitize songbirds and, perhaps, these avifauna are competent hosts of common microbial pathogens. We extracted brachial venous blood from 18 groundforaging passerine birds that were parasitized by I. scapularis larvae and nymphs. Using molecular identification, namely PCR, DNA sequencing, and Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST), we targeted Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia spp. and Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. Overall,

  • 15 (83%) of 18 passerine birds were positive for 3 microbial zoonotic pathogens that comprised of A. phagocytophilum (n = 8), Babesia odocoilei (n = 6), Babesia spp. 20-5A74 (n = 1), and B. burgdorferi sensu lato (n = 9).
  • The pathogen load consisted of 8 singles, 5 doubles, and 2 triples.
  • One novel Babesia sp. (Babesia spp. 20-5A74) was found, and the remaining Babesia infections were B. odocoilei.

Our findings reveal that ground-foraging, passerine birds are avian hosts of zoonotic pathogens. We provide the first-ever documentation that songbirds are hosts of B. odocoilei. Based on our data, B. odocoilei outnumbered other Babesia spp., and elucidated the authentic fact that B. odocoilei is the predominant Babesia sp. in North America. As avian hosts, passerine birds play a significant role in the enzootic transmission cycle of B. burgdorferi sensu lato, A. phagocytophilum, and Babesia species.

Important excerpts:

In the USA, tick researchers have reported B. odocoilei in Indiana [41-43], Michigan [44] Maine [42,43], Massachusetts [41-43], New York [45], Oklahoma [46,47], Pennsylvania [48,49] Texas [50,51], Virginia [52], and Wisconsin [42,43]. As well, B. odocoilei has been detected in I. pacificus in California [53]. In Canada, B. odocoilei has been detected in Saskatchewan [54], Ontario [7,15,55-59], and Quebec [55,57,58]. And yet, acarologists and ecologists have not reported B. microti in these three provinces [7,15,21,55-59]. Babesia odocoilei, which is a sequestering Babesia sp., can be recalcitrant to treat in human patients [7].

Not only do groundfrequenting songbirds transport ticks, they may also be hosts for tick-borne, zoonotic pathogens. Migratory songbirds widely disperse zoonotic pathogens across North America and, therefore, one does not have to frequent or live in an endemic area to contract human babesiosis caused by B. odocoilei.

For more:

%d bloggers like this: