Wildlife can be important sources and reservoirs for pathogens. Trypanosome infections are common in many mammalian species, and are pathogenic in some. Molecular detection tools were used to measure trypanosome prevalence in a well-studied population of wild European badgers (Meles meles).
A nested ITS-PCR system, that targeted the ribosomal RNA gene locus, has been widely used to detect pathogenic human and animal trypanosomes in domestic animals in Africa and some wildlife hosts. Samples from a long-term DEFRA funded capture-mark-recapture study of wild badgers at Woodchester Park (Gloucestershire, SW England) were investigated for trypanosome prevalence. A total of 82 badger blood samples were examined by nested ITS-PCR. Twenty-nine of the samples were found to be positive for trypanosomes giving a prevalence of 35.4 % (25.9 % - 46.2 %; 95 % CI). Infection was not found to be linked to badger condition, sex or age. Analysis of DNA sequence data showed the badgers to be infected with Trypanosoma (Megatrypanum) pestanai and phylogenetic analysis showed the Woodchester badger trypanosomes and T. pestanai to cluster in the Megatrypanum clade.
The results show that the ITS Nested PCR is an effective tool for diagnosing trypanosome infection in badgers and suggests that it could be widely used in wildlife species with unknown trypanosomes or mixed infections. The relatively high prevalence observed in these badgers raises the possibility that a significant proportion of UK badgers are naturally infected with trypanosomes.