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Redescription of Hepatozoon felis (Apicomplexa: Hepatozoidae) based on phylogenetic analysis, tissue and blood form morphology, and possible transplacental transmission

Gad Baneth1*, Alina Sheiner1, Osnat Eyal1, Shelley Hahn1, Jean-Pierre Beaufils2, Yigal Anug3 and Dalit Talmi-Frank1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University, P.O. Box 12, Rehovot, Israel

2 Clinique Vétérinaire, 58, rue du Vigné bas, Calvisson, 30420, France

3 Pathovet LTD, Yehosa Ben Hanania 81, Rehovot, 76391, Israel

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Parasites & Vectors 2013, 6:102  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-102

Published: 15 April 2013



A Hepatozoon parasite was initially reported from a cat in India in 1908 and named Leucocytozoon felis domestici. Although domestic feline hepatozoonosis has since been recorded from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, its description, classification and pathogenesis have remained vague and the distinction between different species of Hepatozoon infecting domestic and wild carnivores has been unclear. The aim of this study was to carry out a survey on domestic feline hepatozoonosis and characterize it morphologically and genetically.


Hepatozoon sp. DNA was amplified by PCR from the blood of 55 of 152 (36%) surveyed cats in Israel and from all blood samples of an additional 19 cats detected as parasitemic by microscopy during routine hematologic examinations. Hepatozoon sp. forms were also characterized from tissues of naturally infected cats.


DNA sequencing determined that all cats were infected with Hepatozoon felis except for two infected by Hepatozoon canis. A significant association (p = 0.00001) was found between outdoor access and H. felis infection. H. felis meronts containing merozoites were characterized morphologically from skeletal muscles, myocardium and lungs of H. felis PCR-positive cat tissues and development from early to mature meront was described. Distinctly-shaped gamonts were observed and measured from the blood of these H. felis infected cats. Two fetuses from H. felis PCR-positive queens were positive by PCR from fetal tissue including the lung and amniotic fluid, suggesting possible transplacental transmission. Genetic analysis indicated that H. felis DNA sequences from Israeli cats clustered together with the H. felis Spain 1 and Spain 2 sequences. These cat H. felis sequences clustered separately from the feline H. canis sequences, which grouped with Israeli and foreign dog H. canis sequences. H. felis clustered distinctly from Hepatozoon spp. of other mammals. Feline hepatozoonosis caused by H. felis is mostly sub-clinical as a high proportion of the population is infected with no apparent overt clinical manifestations.


This study aimed to integrate new histopathologic, hematologic, clinical, epidemiological and genetic findings on feline hepatozoonosis and promote the understanding of this infection. The results indicate that feline infection is primarily caused by a morphologically and genetically distinct species, H. felis, which has predilection to infecting muscular tissues, and is highly prevalent in the cat population studied. The lack of previous comprehensively integrated data merits the redescription of this parasite elucidating its parasitological characteristics.

Hepatozoon felis; Hepatozoon canis; Domestic cat; Transplacental transmission