Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Status of infectious diseases in free-ranging European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) found dead between 2017 and 2020 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

The European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is a quite adaptable species, but populations have been decreasing for several decades in different countries, including Germany. To investigate infectious diseases as possible influences on observed population decline in the German federal state Schleswig-Holstein, 118 deceased free-ranging European brown hares were collected between 2017 and 2020 and underwent detailed postmortem examination with extended sampling. Infectious diseases were a major cause of death (34.7%). The number of juveniles found exceeded the adult ones. The main pathomorphological findings were hepatitis (32.8%), pneumonia (22.2%), nephritis (19.1%), liver necrosis (12.9%), and enteritis (40.7%). An unusual main finding was steatitis (20.9%) of unknown origin. Animals were mainly emaciated and showed high infection rates with Eimeria spp. (91.3%) and Trichostrongylus spp. (36.2%). European Brown Hare Syndrome Virus reached an epidemic status with few fatal infections (4.2%) and high seroprevalence (64.9%), whereas the prevalence of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 was very low (0.8%) in hares in Schleswig-Holstein. Pathogens such as Yersinia pseudotuberculosis (5.9%), Pasteurella multocida (0.8%), and Staphylococcus aureus (3.4%) only caused sporadic deaths. This study illustrates the wide distribution of various infectious pathogens with high mortality and even zoonotic potential. Infectious diseases need to be considered as an important influence on population dynamics in Schleswig-Holstein.

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