Prevalence of Bartonella infection in wild African lions (Panthera leo) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)

  • May 20, 2004
  • by S. Molia, B.B. Chomel, R.W. Kasten, C.M. Leutenegger, B.R. Steele, Marker L. L., J.S. Martenson, D.F. Keet, R.G. Bengis, R.P. Peterson, L. Munson, S.J. O'Brien


Bartonella species are emerging pathogens that have been isolated worldwide from humans and other mammals. Our objective was to estimate the prevalence of Bartonella infection in free-ranging African lions (Panthera leo) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). Blood and/or serum samples were collected from a convenience sample of 113 lions and 74 cheetahs captured in Africa between 1982 and 2002. Whole blood samples available from 58 of the lions and 17 of the cheetahs were cultured for evidence of Bartonella spp., and whole blood from 54 of the 58 lions and 73 of the 74 cheetahs tested for the presence of Bartonella DNA by TaqMan PCR. Serum samples from the 113 lions and 74 cheetahs were tested for the presence of antibodies against Bartonella henselae using an immunofluorescence assay. Three (5.2%) of the 58 lions and one (5.9%) of the 17 cheetahs were bacteremic. Two lions were infected with B. henselae, based on PCR/RFLP of the citrate synthase gene. The third lion and the cheetah were infected with previously unidentified Bartonella strains. Twenty-three percent of the 73 cheetahs and 3.7% of the 54 lions tested by TaqMan PCR were positive for Bartonella spp. B. henselae antibody prevalence was 17% (19/113) for the lions and 31% (23/74) for the cheetahs. The prevalence of seropositivity, bacteremia, and positive TaqMan PCR was not significantly different between sexes and age categories (juvenile versus adult) for both lions and cheetahs. Domestic cats are thus no longer the only known carriers of Bartonella spp. in Africa. Translocation of B. henselae seronegative and TaqMan PCR negative wild felids might be effective in limiting the spread of Bartonella infection.

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