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Field survey and molecular characterization of apicomplexan parasites in small mammals from military camps in Afghanistan

Small mammals are an important reservoir for causative agents of numerous infectious diseases, including zoonotic and vector-borne diseases. The occurrence of these pathogens represents a regional but permanent threat for humans and animals in general and might especially weaken military personnel and companion animals in abroad missions. In our study, small mammals collected in military camps in Afghanistan (Feyzabad, Mazar-e Sharif, and Kunduz) were investigated for the presence of apicomplexans using histopathology and molecular methods. For this purpose, well-established and newly developed real-time PCR assays were applied. A high prevalence was detected not only in house mice (Mus musculus), but also in shrews (Crocidura cf. suaveolens) and grey dwarf hamsters (Cricetulus migratorius). The molecular characterization based on the 18S rRNA gene revealed a close relationship to a cluster of Hepatozoon sp. detected in voles of the genus Microtus. Hepatozoon canis DNA was detected in one house mouse as well as in two Rhipicephalus ticks from a dog puppy. In addition, around 5% of the house mice were found to be infected with far related adeleorinids showing the highest sequence identity of 91.5% to Klossiella equi, the only published Klossiella sequence at present. For their better phylogenetic characterization, we conducted metagenomics by sequencing of two selected samples. The resulting 18S rRNA gene sequences have a length of about 2400 base pairs including an insertion of about 500 base pairs and are 100% identical to each other. Histopathology together with organ tropism and detection rates verified this sequence as of Klossiella muris. In conclusion, we documented naturally occurring protozoan stages and the additional taxonomic characterization of a well-known commensal in mice by applying a combination of different approaches. The study is of medical, social, and biological importance for ensuring human and animal health in military camps and also stresses the required awareness for the potential risk of zoonoses.



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