Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) were evaluated for their susceptibility to experimental infection with Ehrlichia chaffeensis, the causative agent of human monocytotropic ehrlichiosis. Two red foxes and three gray foxes were inoculated intravenously with E. chaffeensis (15B-WTD-GA strain) and were monitored at 7, 14, 21, and 28 days post inoculation (DPI) for evidence of infection using an indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) assay, light microscopy, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and cell culture methods. One red fox and one gray fox served as negative controls. Red foxes were susceptible to infection based on reisolation of E. chaffeensis from blood at 7 and 14 DPI, seroconversion by 7 DPI, and positive PCR assays on spleen and lymph nodes at 28 DPI. Morulae were not found in circulating leukocytes and clinical signs or lesions of ehrlichiosis were not observed. In contrast, gray foxes were refractory to infection based on negative results on all culture, PCR, serologic, and microscopic examinations. These findings imply that red foxes, but not gray foxes, are potential vertebrate reservoirs for E. chaffeensis. These findings also illustrate the need to verify serologic evidence of E. chaffeensis infection among wild animals.
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