North American tree squirrels and ground squirrels with overlapping ranges host different Cryptosporidium species and genotypes.

Abstract

Wildlife-associated Cryptosporidium are an emerging cause of cryptosporidiosis in humans. The present study was undertaken to determine the extent to which North American tree squirrels and ground squirrels host zoonotic Cryptosporidium species and genotypes. Fragments of the Cryptosporidium 18S rRNA and actin genes were amplified and sequenced from fecal samples obtained from three tree squirrel and three ground squirrel species. In tree squirrels, Cryptosporidium was identified in 40.5% (17/42) of American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), 40.4% (55/136) of eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), and 28.6% (2/7) of fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). Human-pathogenic Cryptosporidium ubiquitum and Cryptosporidium skunk genotype were the most prevalent species/genotypes in tree squirrels. Because tree squirrels live in close proximity to humans and are frequently infected with potentially zoonotic Cryptosporidium species/genotypes, they may be a significant reservoir of infection in humans. In ground squirrels, Cryptosporidium was detected in 70.2% (33/47) of 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), 35.1% (27/77) of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), and the only golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis) that was sampled. Cryptosporidium rubeyi and ground squirrel genotypes I, II, and III were identified in isolates from these ground squirrel species. In contrast to the Cryptosporidium infecting tree squirrels, these species/genotypes appear to be specific for ground squirrels and are not associated with human disease.

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