Serological survey and risk factors of Aelurostrongylus abstrusus infection among owned cats in Italy
Feline lungworms affect the respiratory tract of domestic cats causing respiratory conditions of various degrees. In this study, we investigated the exposure of cats to feline lungworm infections by detecting antibodies in a large population of animals from several regions of Italy. Sera of 1087 domestic cats living in regions of the north (n = 700), the centre (n = 227) and the south (n = 160) of Italy were examined by a newly developed indirect ELISA conceived for detection of antibodies against the most frequently occurring feline lungworm Aelurostrongylus abstrusus. Individual cat data (i.e., age, sex, neutering status and provenience) were analysed as potential risk factors for exposure to lungworm infections. Samples were additionally screened for feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) proviral DNAs. Overall, 9% (98/1087; 95% confidence interval (CI) 7.4-10.9%) of the animals tested seropositive to lungworm antibodies. Positive cats were identified in the north (7.1%; CI 5.5-9.3%), in the centre (5.3%; CI 3.0-9.0%) and in the South (22.5%; CI 16.7-29.6%), with more seropositive animals in the latter area (p < 0.05). The risk of lungworm infection in cats was significantly associated with age less than 6 months (i.e. 24.4%, p < 0.05) and FIV infection (p < 0.05). This large-scale serological survey confirms the exposure of cats to lungworm infections in Italy and that serological tests can be used to assess the distribution of lungworm infections in large populations of animals.