Prevalence and genotyping of Trichomonas infections in wild birds in central Germany
Avian trichomonosis is a widespread disease in columbids and other birds, caused by ingestion of the unicellular flagellate Trichomonas gallinae which proliferate primarily in the upper respiratory tracts. Studies using genetic analyses have determined some highly pathogenic lineages in birds, but the prevalence and distribution of potentially ... pathogenic and non-pathogenic T. gallinae lineages in wild birds is still not well known. We examined 440 oral swab samples of 35 bird species collected between 2015 and 2017 in Hesse, central Germany, for Trichomonas spp. infection and for determining the genetic lineages. Of these birds, 152 individuals were caught in the wild and 288 individuals were admitted from the wild to a veterinary clinic. The overall Trichomonas spp. prevalence was 35.6%. We observed significant differences between bird orders, with the highest prevalence in owls (58%) and columbids (50%), while other orders had slightly lower prevalences, with 36% in Accipitriformes, 28% in Falconiformes and 28% in Passeriformes. Among 71 successfully sequenced samples, we found 13 different haplotypes, including two previously described common lineages A/B (20 samples) and C/V/N (36 samples). The lineage A/B has been described as pathogenic, causing lesions and mortality in columbids, raptors and finches. This lineage was found in 11 of the 35 species, including columbids (feral pigeon, woodpigeon, stock dove), passerines (greenfinch, chaffinch, blackbird) and raptors (common kestrel, sparrowhawk, red kite, peregrine falcon and common buzzard). One new lineage (R) was found in a sample of a chaffinch. In conclusion, we found that the prevalence of Trichomonas spp. infection in wild birds was high overall, and the potentially pathogenic lineage A/B was widespread. Our findings are worrying, as epidemic outbreaks of trichomonosis have already been observed in Germany in several years and can have severe negative effects on bird populations. This disease may add to the multiple pressures that birds face in areas under high land-use intensity.