Evidence incriminating midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) as potential vectors of Leishmania in Australia

Annette Marie Dougall, John Bruce Alexander, Deborah Holt, Tegan Harris, Amal Sultan, Paul Andrew Bates, Karrie Anne Rose, Shelley Walton

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96 Citations (Scopus)


The first autochthonous Leishmania infection in Australia was reported by Rose et al. (2004) and the parasite was characterised as a unique species. The host was the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) but the transmitting vector was unknown. To incriminate the biological vector, insect trapping by a variety of methods was undertaken at two field sites of known Leishmania transmission. Collected sand flies were identified to species level and were screened for Leishmania DNA using a semi-quantitative real-time PCR. Collections revealed four species of sand fly, with a predominance of the reptile biter Sergentomyia queenslandi (Hill). However, no Leishmania-positive flies were detected. Therefore, alternative vectors were investigated for infection, giving startling results. Screening revealed that an undescribed species of day-feeding midge, subgenus Forcipomyia (Lasiohelea) Kieffer, had a prevalence of up to 15% for Leishmania DNA, with high parasitemia in some individuals. Manual gut dissections confirmed the presence of promastigotes and in some midges material similar to promastigote secretory gel, including parasites with metacyclic-like morphology. Parasites were cultured from infected midges and sequence analysis of the Leishmania RNA polymerase subunit II gene confirmed infections were identical to the original isolated Leishmania sp. Phylogenetic analysis revealed the closest known species to be Leishmania enriettii, with this and the Australian species confirmed as members of Leishmania sensu stricto. Collectively the results strongly suggest that the day-feeding midge (F. (Lasiohelea) sp. 1) is a potential biological vector of Leishmania in northern Australia, which is to our knowledge the first evidence of a vector other than a phlebotomine sand fly anywhere in the world. These findings have considerable implications in the understanding of the Leishmania life cycle worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-579
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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