Trypanosome species, including Trypanosoma cruzi, in sylvatic and peridomestic bats of Texas, USA.
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In contrast to other mammalian reservoirs, many bat species migrate long-distances and have the potential to introduce exotic pathogens to new areas. Bats have long been associated with blood-borne protozoal trypanosomes of the Schizotrypanum subgenus, which includes the zoonotic parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, agent of Chagas disease. Another member of the subgenus, Trypanosoma dionisii, infects bats of Europe and South America, and genetic similarities between strains from the two continents suggest transcontinental movement of this parasite via bats. Despite the known presence of diverse trypanosomes in bats of Central and South America, and the presence of T. cruzi-infected vectors and wildlife in the US, the role of bats in maintaining and dispersing trypanosomes in the US has not yet been reported. We collected hearts and blood from 8 species of insectivorous bats from 30 counties across Texas. Using PCR and DNA sequencing, we tested 593 bats for trypanosomes and found 1 bat positive for T. cruzi (0.17%), 9 for T. dionisii (1.5%), and 5 for Blastocrithidia spp. (0.8%), a group of insect trypanosomes. The T. cruzi-infected bat was carrying TcI, the strain type associated with human disease in the US. In the T. dionisii-infected bats, we detected three unique variants associated with the three infected bat species. These findings represent the first report of T. cruzi in a bat in the US, of T. dionisii in North America, and of Blastocrithidia spp. in mammals, and underscore the importance of bats in the maintenance of trypanosomes, including agents of human and animal disease, across broad geographic locales.