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European Rabbits as Reservoir for Coxiella burnetii - Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

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European Rabbits as Reservoir for Coxiella burnetii - Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015


European Rabbits as Reservoir for Coxiella burnetii

David González-Barrio, Elisa Maio, Madalena Vieira-Pinto, and Francisco Ruiz-FonsComments to Author 
Author affiliations: Spanish Wildlife Research Institute, Ciudad Real, Spain (D. González-Barrio, F. Ruiz-Fons);University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Vila Real, Portugal (E. Maio, M. Vieira-Pinto)


We studied the role of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) as a reservoir for Coxiella burnetii in the Iberian region. High individual and population seroprevalences observed in wild and farmed rabbits, evidence of systemic infections, and vaginal shedding support the reservoir role of the European rabbit forC. burnetii.
Wildlife play a major role in the maintenance and transmission of multihost pathogens (1,2). Understanding the role of host species involved in multihost zoonotic pathogen maintenance and transmission is essential to prevent disease caused by these pathogens.
Coxiella burnetii, which is the cause of Q fever, is a zoonotic pathogen that infects multiple hosts (3). The implication of wildlife in the life cycle of C. burnetii has been reported worldwide (4,5), and wildlife might act as a source for humans infections (6,7).
European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are native to the Iberian Peninsula and have been introduced into Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina (8). Domestic varieties of European rabbits are farmed worldwide. Specific ecologic traits (high density, gregarious behavior, high reproductive rate) suggest that these rabbits might become a major reservoir of zoonotic pathogens. However, whether Cburnetii can infect, replicate in, and be shed by European rabbits and contaminate the environment is not known. In this study, we investigated the role of these rabbits in a region to which Q fever is endemic.

The Study

Thumbnail of Seroprevalence of Coxiella burnetii (sample size) in wild and farmed European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Iberian Peninsula and Chafarinas Islands. The distribution area of wild rabbits in the Iberian Peninsula (10 x 10 km Universal Transverse Mercator squares) is shown (gray shading) according to Mitchel-Jones et al. (9). LO sampling location is indicated. *Rabbit farm.
Figure 1. Seroprevalence ofCoxiella burnetii (sample size) in wild and farmed European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Iberian Peninsula and Chafarinas Islands. The distribution area of wild rabbits in the Iberian Peninsula (10 x...
Serum samples were collected from European wild rabbits in 13 locations in Spain, Portugal, and the Chafarinas Islands during 2003–2013 (Figure 1). Wild rabbits from 1 of the study locations (LO; Figure 1) were obtained from 2 epidemiologic scenarios (10). The first scenario involved rabbits that coexisted with farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus) (sites A and B). The second scenario involved rabbits that had not been in contact with ruminants since 2002 (site C).
In addition to serum samples, spleen, uterus, and mammary gland samples and vaginal and uterus swab specimens were collected from rabbits surveyed at location LO. Each rabbit from this location was weighed and sexed. Serum samples were also collected from farmed rabbits on 4 farms in Spain (Figure 1). Samples were stored at −20°C until tested.
Mr. González-Barrio is a doctoral student at the Spanish Wildlife Research Institute, Ciudad Real, Spain. His research interests are the epidemiology of pathogens transmitted between wildlife, livestock, and humans within a OneHealth approach; the epidemiology and diagnosis of C. burnetii infections; and development of infection control strategies for wildlife.


We thank location LO farm managers, Tania Carta, María Martín, Christian Gortázar and José Antonio Ortiz for assistance during the study and Ursula Höfle for checking the English grammar of the paper.
This study was supported by European Union FP7 grant ANTIGONE (278976), European Union FP7 EMIDA ERA-NET grant APHAEA on wildlife disease surveillance in Europe, and Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial, Spanish Ministry for Economy and Competitiveness. F.-R-F. was supported by Juan de la Cierva and Ramón y Cajal contracts from the Spanish Ministry for Economy and Competitiveness.


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Suggested citation for this article: González-Barrio D, Maio E, Vieira-Pinto M, Ruiz-Fons F. Role of the European rabbits as reservoir for Coxiella burnetii. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Jun [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2106.141537
DOI: 10.3201/eid2106.141537

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