Exposure to Coxiella burnetii in Wild Lagomorphs in Spanish Mediterranean Ecosystems



Coxiella burnetii is an important zoonotic pathogen of worldwide distribution that can infect a wide range of wild and domestic species. The European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) can play a role as a reservoir for this bacterium in certain epidemiological scenarios, but, to date, a very limited numbers of large-scale serosurveys have been conducted for this species worldwide. Although exposure in hare species has also been described, C. burnetii in Iberian hare (Lepus granatensis) has never been assessed. Here, we aimed to determine the seroprevalence and risk factors associated with C. burnetii exposure in wild lagomorphs in the Mediterranean ecosystems of southern Spain. Between the 2018/2019 and 2021/2022 hunting seasons, blood samples from 638 wild lagomorphs, including 471 wild rabbits and 167 Iberian hares, were collected from 112 hunting grounds distributed across all eight provinces of Andalusia (southern Spain). The overall apparent individual seroprevalence was 8.9% (57/638; 95% CI: 6.8–11.4). Antibodies against C. burnetii were found in 11.3% (53/471; 95% CI: 8.4–14.1) of the wild rabbits and 2.4% (4/167; 95% CI: 0.1–4.7) of the Iberian hares. Seropositive animals were detected for 16 (14.3%; 95% CI: 7.8–20.8) of the 112 hunting grounds tested and in all the hunting seasons sampled. A generalized estimating equations model showed that the geographical area (western Andalusia) and presence of sheep were risk factors potentially associated with C. burnetii exposure in wild lagomorphs. A statistically significant spatial cluster (p < 0.001) was identified in the south-west of Andalusia. Our results provide evidence of moderate, endemic and heterogeneous circulation of C. burnetii in wild lagomorph populations in Spanish Mediterranean ecosystems. Risk-based strategies for integrative surveillance programs should be implemented in these species to reduce the risk of transmission of the bacterium to sympatric species, including humans.

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