What is equine piroplasmosis?

board of animal health

Reportable Disease of the Month

Equine Piroplasmosis

What is it?

Equine piroplasmosis is a tickborne disease affecting horses, mules, donkeys and zebras. The disease was believed to be eradicated from the U.S. in 1988, and was discovered again in Florida in 2008. The protozoa responsible for the disease are Babesia caballi and Theileria equi, which are endemic in many tropical and subtropical countries. Any suspected or confirmed cases must be immediately reported to animal health officials.

How is it transmitted?

The main route of transmission is through a bite from an infected tick. Many different tick species can transmit the disease. Infected horses can also transmit piroplasmosis to their offspring, and can remain infected for many years. Horses and other equids are routinely tested for this disease when being imported into the U.S., which helps stop the spread.

What are the clinical signs?

Clinical signs of equine piroplasmosis are variable and non-specific. Veterinarians should consider equine piroplasmosis when diagnosing equids with fever, anemia, jaundice, and chronic inflammation.

How is it diagnosed?

The disease can be confirmed by diagnostic laboratory testing. Trained veterinarians can collect blood samples and submit them for laboratory confirmation. Post mortem examination can also confirm the disease. All suspected cases should be reported to local animal health officials like the Minnesota Board of Animal Health before receiving a diagnosis.

Is there a risk to people?

Yes, the largest risk for people to contract the disease is from the bite of an infected tick. Humans should consult their physician if they have concerns. The Minnesota Department of Health also has several resources related to tickborne illnesses available on their website.

How can it be prevented?

Regularly examine your equids for ticks, beginning with their head and ears. Feel along the mane and sides with a flat hand to try to detect any attached ticks. Visually inspect the tail and between the legs. You can treat equids and their immediate environments with acaricides to help prevent and reduce tick populations. Make sure to adhere to strict biosecurity practices when moving your animals for shows or events, and separate animals when they return to the farm until you can inspect them for ticks and monitor them for any signs of an infection.

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