Epidemiology, genetic variants and clinical course of natural infections with Anaplasma phagocytophilum in a dairy cattle herd
Background Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an obligate intracellular, tick-transmitted bacterium that causes granulocytic anaplasmosis in humans and several mammalian species including domestic ruminants where it is called tick-borne fever (TBF). Different genetic variants exist but their impact with regard to putative differences in host associations and pathogenicity are not yet completely understood. Methods Natural infections with A. phagocytophilum in a dairy cattle herd in Germany were investigated over one pasture season by using serology, haematology, blood chemistry and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sequence analysis of partial 16S rRNA, groEL, msp2 and msp4 genes of A. phagocytophilum was carried out in order to trace possible genetic variants and their relations between cattle, roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and ticks (Ixodes ricinus) in this area. Results In total 533 samples from 58 cattle, 310 ticks, three roe deer and one wild boar were examined. Our results show (i) typical clinical symptoms of TBF in first-time infected heifers, such as high fever, reduced milk yield, lower limb oedema and typical haematological and biochemical findings such as severe leukopenia, erythropenia, neutropenia, lymphocytopenia, monocytopenia, a significant increase in creatinine and bilirubin and a significant decrease in serum albumin, γ-GT, GLDH, magnesium and calcium; (ii) a high overall prevalence of A. phagocytophilum infections in this herd as 78.9% (15/19) of the naïve heifers were real-time PCR-positive and 75.9% (44/58) of the entire herd seroconverted; and (iii) a high level of sequence variation in the analysed genes with five variants of the 16S rRNA gene, two variants of the groEL gene, three variants of the msp2 gene and four variants in the msp4 gene with certain combinations of these variants. Conclusions In cattle particular combinations of the genetic variants of A. phagocytophilum occurred, whereas three roe deer showed different variants altogether. This is indicative for a sympatric circulation of variants in this small geographical region (< 1 km2). Both re- and superinfections with A. phagocytophilum were observed in five cattle showing that infection does not result in sterile immunity. For prevention of clinical cases we suggest pasturing of young, not pregnant heifers to reduce economical losses.