A Babesia sp. found in eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, is the same organism that caused human babesiosis in Missouri and Kentucky, on the basis of morphology and identical small-subunit rRNA (SSU rRNA) gene sequences. Continuous cultures of the rabbit parasite were established from infected blood samples collected from two cottontail rabbits livetrapped on Nantucket Island. HL-1 medium or minimal essential medium alpha medium supplemented with 20% human serum best supported in vitro propagation of the parasite in human or cottontail erythrocytes, respectively. Parasite growth was not sustained in domestic-rabbit erythrocytes or in medium supplemented with domestic-rabbit serum. The cultured parasites were morphologically indistinguishable from the Kentucky human isolate. Transmission electron microscopy revealed similar fine structures of the parasite regardless of the host erythrocyte utilized in the cultures. Two continuous lines of the zoonotic Babesia sp. were established and confirmed to share identical SSU rRNA gene sequences with each other and with the Missouri and Kentucky human Babesia isolates.
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