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Haemoplasmas: Lessons learnt from cats

Authors: Tasker S, Barker E
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 184-192, Jul 2013
Publisher: Taylor and Francis


The haemotropic mycoplasmas (haemoplasmas) are a group of bacteria that can induce anaemia in a wide variety of mammals, including domestic cats and wild felids. Different feline haemoplasma species of varying pathogenicity exist, with the more pathogenic Mycoplasma haemofelis (Mhf) capable of inducing severe haemolytic anaemia, whilst ‘Candidatus Mycoplasma haemominutum’ (CMhm) and ‘Candidatus Mycoplasma turicensis’ (CMt) are infrequently associated with clinical disease. Chronic haemoplasma infections are common and cats are frequently infected by two or more haemoplasmas, complicating the clinical picture. The natural route of transmission of haemoplasma infection between cats has not yet been determined; however, experimental transmission has been demonstrated via both oral and parenteral administration of infected blood.

To date the haemoplasmas have been unable to be cultured in vitro, and accurate diagnosis is currently reliant on detection of bacterial DNA using PCR assays. Treatment of clinical haemoplasmosis is focussed on supportive care in combination with empirical treatment with antimicrobials (tetracyclines or fluoroquinolones). A significant number of asymptomatic cats are positive for haemoplasma infection. These cats may play a role in the maintenance of haemoplasma infection within a population, and need to be considered when choosing potential blood donors.

Use of PCR assays has provided an accurate method of diagnosing haemoplasma infection and quantifying response to therapy, including in non-feline host animals, as presumed zoonotic haemoplasma infections are now being documented. Recent advances in genome sequencing techniques have allowed the whole genome sequences of the feline haemoplasmas Mhf and CMhm to be derived, as well as a number of non-feline haemoplasma species. These data have aided the identification of antigens for use in the development of serological tests, allowed the proteomic study of haemoplasmas and provided clues as to how the haemoplasmas can persist within the host. Future areas of study include investigation of their zoonotic potential, mechanisms of immune system evasion and transmission of these emerging pathogens.

KEY WORDS: Mycoplasma haemofelis, feline infectious anaemia, PCR, molecular diagnostics, zoonosis, haemotropic mycoplasmas
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