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Red Fox and Ticks: New Strain Of Flu-Like Pathogen Found In Austria

Nov 30, 2015 11:30 AM EST
Red Foxes
A new strain of a tick-born bacterium was recently discovered in red foxes ranging through Austria.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Austrian Red Foxes may be a possible source of tick-born pathogens known as Candidatus Neoehrlichi mikurensis (CNM), according to researchers from the Institute of Parasitology at the Vetmeduni Vienna. Ticks are the primary carriers of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease, which they can also transmit to people and animals they latch onto.

Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis was first discovered in 1999 in Ixodes ricinus ticks. Since 2010, when the first human case of CNM was reported, the bacterium has been found in dogs, hedgehogs, shrews, bears, badgers, chamois and mouflons, according to a news release.

When infected with CNM bacteria, humans may experience symptoms such as a fever, muscle or joint pain, and a higher risk of thrombosis and embolisms. Adnan Hodžić, of the Vetmeduni Vienna, and colleagues, recently discovered the new strain of Candidatus Neoehrlichia in a red fox from Vorarlberg, Austria.

"Further study will be required for proper phylogenetic placement of the bacterium. What is certain, however, is that this could be a potential zoonotic pathogen, meaning that it could be transmittable to humans. But we still do not know the possible route of an infection and consequences on humans or pets," study leader Hans-Peter Führer explained in the release.

Red foxes are flexible and easily adaptable animals that can be found in a wide variety of habitats worldwide. At birth, red foxes are generally brown or gray, but a new red coat grows in by the end of the first month. The animals are omnivores, but prefer to feast on rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game.

Following their discovery, researchers examined 164 spleen samples collected from red foxes during routine hunting events in Austria, from which genetic analysis revealed a female red fox from Feldkirch, the state bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein, was carrying the new tick-born bacterial strain. Symptoms of the new strain include flu-like manifestations in humans and pets.

"The illness is not yet well-known among physicians, however, and therefore often remains undiagnosed," Hodžić added. "We want to raise awareness of this pathogen. Given the relevant symptoms, physicians should know what to do. An infection is best treated with the antibiotic Doxycyclin."

Their findings were recently published in the journal Parasites & Vectors.

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