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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 140:143-149 (2020)  -  DOI:

Outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in African penguins Spheniscus demersus

Renata Hurtado1,2,*, Nola J. Parsons1, Tertius A. Gous3, Stephen van der Spuy1, Romy Klusener1, Nicola Stander1, Erna van Wilpe4, Ralph E. T. Vanstreels5

1Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), Table View, Cape Town 7441, South Africa
2Institute of Research and Rehabilitation of Marine Animals (IPRAM), Cariacica, Espírito Santo 29140-130, Brazil
3Independent researcher, Helderberg, Cape Town 7130, South Africa
4Laboratory for Microscopy & Microanalysis, Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria, Hatfield, Pretoria 0028, South Africa
5Marine Apex Predator Research Unit (MAPRU), Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape 6031, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Cryptosporidium spp. are parasitic intracellular protozoa that infect the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tracts of vertebrates. The disease affects many different avian species across all continents, and >25 species and genotypes of Cryptosporidium have been documented infecting birds. We report on an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in African penguin Spheniscus demersus chicks admitted to a rehabilitation center in South Africa from February 2012 to October 2013. Eighteen cases were confirmed through histopathology. The most frequent clinical signs were regurgitation (78%), dyspnea (72%), decreased weight gain or weight loss (72%), and lethargy (50%). Clinical signs began 8-46 d after hatching or admission (median: 13 d), and death followed 1-41 d after the onset of clinical signs (median: 13.5 d). The most frequent necropsy findings were stomach distended with undigested food or gas (78%), mildly reddened lungs (56%), spleen petechial hemorrhage (44%), and kidney congestion (39%). The most frequent histopathological findings were necrotic bursitis (89%), necrotic enteritis (83%), and bursal atrophy (67%). Small round or oval basophilic bodies (3-5 µm diameter) consistent with Cryptosporidium sp. were closely associated with the surface of the epithelial cells or in the lumen of the bursa (89%), large intestine (61%), small intestine (44%), trachea (22%), and ventriculus (6%). Transmission electron microscopy of 1 case confirmed that these organisms were Cryptosporidium sp. To our knowledge, this is the first report of cryptosporidiosis in penguins, raising concern of the potential implications for the conservation of these species.

KEY WORDS: Apicomplexa · Protozoal disease · Seabird · Spheniscidae · Wildlife rehabilitation

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Cite this article as: Hurtado R, Parsons NJ, Gous TA, van der Spuy S and others (2020) Outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in African penguins Spheniscus demersus. Dis Aquat Org 140:143-149.

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