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Keywords:

  • Leptospirosis;
  • Procyon lotor;
  • public health;
  • raccoons;
  • tularaemia

Summary

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are commonly implicated as carriers of many zoonotic pathogens. The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to look for Leptospira interrogans and Francisella tularensis in opportunistically sampled, free-ranging raccoons of Larimer Country, Colorado, USA. Sixty-five animals were included in the study and testing consisted of gross post-mortem examination, histopathology, and both immunohistochemistry and PCR for L. interrogans and F. tularensis. No significant gross lesions were identified and the most common histological lesions were lymphoplasmacytic interstitial nephritis and pulmonary silicosis; rare periportal hepatitis, splenic lymphoid hyperplasia and small pulmonary granulomas were also identified. Of 65 animals, 20 (30%) were positive for Leptospira on IHC but only one by PCR. Animals with inflammation in their kidneys were seven times more likely to be positive for Leptospira than animals without inflammation. The severity of inflammation was variable but often mild with minimal associated renal pathology. One animal was positive for Francisella on both IHC and PCR; IHC staining was localized to histiocytic cells within a pulmonary granuloma. In Colorado the significance and epidemiology of Leptospira is poorly understood. The high prevalence of infection in raccoons in this study population suggests that this species may be important in the regional epidemiology or could be used to estimate risk to domestic animals and humans. Identification of a single Francisella positive animal is significant as this is an uncommon disease in terrestrial animals within the state; the apparently higher prevalence in this peridomestic species implies that raccoons may be good indicators of the pathogen in the region. The results of this study suggest that raccoons may serve as effective sentinels for both Leptospira and Francisella in the state of Colorado. Further studies are needed to better characterize the prevalence and epidemiology of both organisms within the region.