No evidence for avian malaria infection during the nestling phase in a passerine bird.
Cosgrove CL., Knowles SCL., Day KP., Sheldon BC.
One of many uncertainties concerning the epidemiology of avian malaria in wild bird populations is the age at first infection. While nestlings, being naked and presumably immunologically naïve would seem a likely stage of first infection, most age-stratified prevalence studies have not examined the nestling cohort, whereas those that have use relatively insensitive blood smear examination to diagnose infection. In the study presented here, we used sensitive nested polymerase chain reaction methods to screen blood samples from 195, 14-day-old blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) nestlings for avian malaria parasites (species of Plasmodium and Haemoproteus). Adults in this population are commonly infected with Plasmodium spp. (prevalence c. 30%). No avian malaria infections were found in nestlings, but a single positive identification of the related hematozoan parasite, Leucocytozoon sp., was made. Our results suggest either that the nestlings were infected but the disease had not yet reached patency, or that young birds in the nest are not bitten by the insect vectors of the disease.