- (1) Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, 100 Dyrlægevej, Frederiksberg C, DK-1870, Denmark
- (2) Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Section for Organismal Biology, 40 Thorvaldsensvej, DK-1871, Frederiksberg C, Denmark
- (3) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
BACKGROUND: Infections and clinical cases of Angiostrongylus vasorum in dogs are found increasingly across Europe, thus rendering knowledge on its infection biology more important. We used red foxes as a carnivore model to examine the effect of host age and infection dose on the establishment of adult A. vasorum in single experimental infections. METHODS: Fourteen juvenile and fourteen adult red foxes, free of metastrongyloid infections, were given a low (50) or high (200) dose of third-stage larvae (L3) of A. vasorum. Two groups of three foxes of each age group served as uninfected controls. Larval excretion by Baermann and blood parameters were followed for ten weeks. Worm counts were performed at necropsy by sequential perfusion, dissection and Baermann method. RESULTS: The establishment rate (i.e. recovery in percentage of inoculation dose) of A. vasorum primary infections in red foxes was associated with host age and inoculation dose. In the low dose juveniles, 61% (range 52-72%) of the infection dose was recovered as worms in the pulmonary arteries and heart at necropsy while only 35% (21-50%) were recovered in the high dose. Corresponding establishment rates for adults were 39% (18-98%) and 8% (1-21%). In juveniles, a higher dose resulted in significantly higher adult worm counts, higher larval excretion and more pronounced pathophysiological changes, particularly in coagulation parameters. Earlier onset of patency was also found in the juveniles. In contrast, the larval excretion in high dose adults was very low and two infected animals never reached patency. However, a few adults showed only limited resistance as judged by excretion of larvae. The increase to very high larval excretion levels (> 4,000 larvae per g of faeces) after several months in a single animal, indicated that any potential acquired immunity does not affect worm fecundity. CONCLUSIONS: Resistance to a primary A. vasorum infection was generally higher in older animals, and this age resistance was reflected in lower worm counts and reduced excretion of larvae. The juvenile red foxes were fully susceptible, as reflected in high establishment rates. Although severe clinical disease was never observed in the foxes, A. vasorum infections in red foxes appear to be chronic and moreover, to resemble infections in dogs. The results underline the red fox as a suitable model as well as natural reservoir for the parasite.