We assessed evidence of exposure to viruses and bacteria in an unmanaged and long-isolated population of Soay sheep (Ovis aries) inhabiting Hirta, in the St Kilda archipelago, 65 km west of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The sheep harbour many metazoan and protozoan parasites but their exposure to viral and bacterial pathogens is unknown. We tested for herpes viral DNA in leucocytes and found that 21 of 42 tested sheep were infected with ovine herpesvirus 2 (OHV-2). We also tested 750 plasma samples collected between 1997 and 2010 for evidence of exposure to seven other viral and bacterial agents common in domestic Scottish sheep. We found evidence of exposure to Leptospira spp., with overall seroprevalence of 6·5%. However, serological evidence indicated that the population had not been exposed to border disease, parainfluenza, maedi-visna, or orf viruses, nor to Chlamydia abortus. Some sheep tested positive for antibodies against Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) but, in the absence of retrospective faecal samples, the presence of this infection could not be confirmed. The roles of importation, the pathogen–host interaction, nematode co-infection and local transmission warrant future investigation, to elucidate the transmission ecology and fitness effects of the few viral and bacterial pathogens on Hirta.
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