Prevalence of Trypanosoma cruzi, the Etiologic Agent of Chagas Disease, Infection in Texas Skunks (Mammalia: Mephitidae)

Bonnie E. Gulas-Wroblewski, Rodion Viktorovich Gorchakov, Rebecca B. Kairis, Robert C. Dowler, Kristy O. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Chagas disease is one of the world's most neglected tropical diseases, infecting over six million people across the Americas. The hemoparasite Trypanosoma cruzi is the etiological agent for the disease, circulating in domestic, peridomestic, and sylvatic transmission cycles that are maintained by triatomine vectors and a diversity of wild and synanthropic hosts. Public health and wildlife management interventions targeting the interruption of T. cruzi transmission rely on an understanding of the dynamics driving the ecology of this zoonotic pathogen. One wildlife host that purportedly plays a role in the transmission of Chagas disease within the southern United States is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), although infection prevalence in this species is poorly understood. Materials and Methods: To this end, we conducted a PCR-based surveillance of T. cruzi in 235 wild skunks, representing 4 species, across 76 counties and 10 ecoregions in Texas, United States, along with an evaluation of risk factors associated with the infection. Results: We recovered an overall T. cruzi prevalence of 17.9% for all mephitid taxa aggregated, ranging between 6.7% for plains spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius interrupta) and 42.9% for western spotted skunks (Spilogale gracilis). We report the first cases of T. cruzi infection in plains spotted and American hog-nosed skunks (Conepatus leuconotus), of important note for conservation medicine since populations of both species are declining within Texas. Although not statistically significant, we also detected trends for juveniles to exhibit greater infection risk than adults and for differential sex biases in T. cruzi prevalence between taxa, which align with variations in species-specific seasonal activity patterns. No geographic or taxonomic risk factors were identified. Conclusion: Our study contributed key data for population viability analyses and epidemiologic models in addition to providing a baseline for future T. cruzi surveillance among skunks and other wildlife species.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-28
Number of pages11
JournalVector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 11 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-02-27
Acknowledgements: This research was supported in part by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases award number R03AI123650.


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