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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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    Outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in African penguins Spheniscus demersus

    Renata Hurtado*, Nola J. Parsons, Tertius A. Gous, Stephen van der Spuy, Romy Klusener, Nicola Stander, Erna van Wilpe, Ralph E. T. Vanstreels

    *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 more than 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 to 46 d after hatching or admission (median 13 d), and death followed 1 to 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 haemorrhage (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 to 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 one case confirmed that these organisms were Cryptosporidium sp. To our knowledge, this is the first report of cryptosporidiosis in penguins, raising concern on its potential implications for the conservation of these species.