Usutu virus (USUV) is a mosquito-borne zoonotic flavivirus causing mortality in Eurasian blackbirds (Turdus merula) in Europe. In dead blackbirds, avian malaria co-infection due to mosquito-borne hemosporidians (e.g., Plasmodium spp.) has been reported. In humans, a similar co-infection of a flavivirus, Dengue virus, and Plasmodium spp. is causing increased severity of clinical disease. Currently, the effects of co-infection of arboviruses and hemosporidians in blackbirds remain unclear. This study investigates the rate of USUV and Plasmodium spp. co-infection in found-dead blackbirds (n = 203) from 2016 to 2020 in the Netherlands. Presence of Plasmodium spp. was evaluated by cytology (43/203; 21,2%), histopathology (94/186; 50,5%) and qPCR (179/203; 88,1%). The severity of histological lesions in USUV and Plasmodium spp. co-infected dead blackbirds (121/203; 59,6%) were compared with those in Plasmodium spp. single-infected cases. Additionally, since no knowledge is present on the infection rate on live birds and mosquitoes in the Netherlands, a small group of live blackbirds (n = 12) and selected in the field-collected mosquito pools (n = 96) in 2020 were tested for the presence of Plasmodium spp. The latter was detected in the tested live blackbirds by qPCR (8/10; 80%), and cytology (3/11; 27,3%) and in the mosquito pools by qPCR (18/96; 18,7%). For this study, co-infection between USUV and Plasmodium spp. was observed only in the dead blackbirds. The high Plasmodium spp. presence, associated with lower lesions score, in single infected found dead birds suggest a predominantly smaller pathogenic role as single agent. On the other hand, the higher histological lesion scores observed in USUV and Plasmodium spp. co-infected birds suggests a major pathogenic role for the virus or an increased severity of the lesions due to a possible interplay of the two agents.
- Avian malaria