A high prevalence of Theileria penicillata in woylies (Bettongia penicillata)
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The woylie or brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) is a medium-sized native Australian marsupial that has undergone a dramatic decline in numbers in recent years. Trypanosome parasites have been identified in the woylie but little is known about the prevalence and clinical impact of other haemoprotozoan parasites in these marsupials. In the present study, the occurrence and molecular phylogeny of a piroplasm was studied in woylies from six different sites in Western Australia (WA). Blood samples were screened by PCR at the 18S rRNA locus and 80.4% (123/153) of the blood samples were positive for piroplasm DNA. Sequence and phylogenetic analysis of 12 of these positives identified them as Theileria penicillata, and sequencing of cloned PCR products indicated that no other species of Theileria were present. Infected woylies had a lower body weight but microscopic evaluation of the blood films indicated that T. penicillata did not appear to cause red cell injury or anaemia. Further studies are required to determine the clinical significance of T. penicillata in woylies.
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