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Equine Piroplasmosis is endemic in South and Center America, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico), Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern and Southern Europe. Only the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, England and Ireland are not considered to be endemic areas. This blood disease primarily affects Equidae (horses, donkeys, mules, and zebras). Equine Piroplasmosis is caused by two parasitic organisms, Babesia equi and Babesia caballi. The greatest risk for introduction of this disease is through trading of animals or international equestrian sports, where infected and non-infected animals are in contact. Many disease free countries have the climate suitable for a foreign tick vector, or have ticks which could act as vectors.
Equine Piroplasmosis Transmission: Although, Equine Piroplasmosis is primarily transmitted to horses by ticks, in the US the same species of tick which spreads Lyme disease that is infected Deer Ticks or Black Legged Ticks (Ixodes sp). Additionally this bloodborne disease has been spread mechanically from animal to animal by contaminated needles.
Equine Piroplasmosis Symptoms: Once infected, an equine can take 7 to 22 days to show signs of illness. Cases of Equine Piroplasmosis can be mild or acute, depending on the virulence of the parasite. Acutely affected equine can have fever, anemia, jaundiced mucous membranes, swollen abdomens, and labored breathing. Equine Piroplasmosis can also cause equine to have roughened hair coats, constipation, and colic. In its milder form, Equine Piroplasmosis causes equine to appear weak and show lack of appetite.
Equine Piroplasmosis Prevention: Prevention of Equine Piroplasmosis in horses is based primarily on tick control. Daily grooming and removal of ticks is one of the best ways to prevent infection. (Note, the ticks need to attach and feed for 12-24 hours before they can transmit the bacteria). Tick repellents may be applied to the hair coat (particularly head, neck, legs, belly, and under the tail) when horses are turned out. Tick repellents containing the chemical permethrin are especially effective, and several products containing this chemical are approved for use on horses and other domestic animals. Remember to apply these products in early spring and fall, when adult Ixodes spp ticks are active. Keeping pastures mown will make the environment less hospitable for ticks, and removing brush, wood piles, etc. from pasture areas will decrease rodent nesting areas, which also helps decrease tick populations.