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Equine Piroplasmosis Fact Sheet

Equine piroplasmosis

Equine piroplasmosis is a tick-borne disease, affecting all equine species, such as horses, mules, donkeys and zebras. Theileria equi (T. equi) and Babesia caballi (B. caballi) are the agents that cause equine piroplasmosis.

Equine piroplasmosis and the risk to human health

Infected horses pose no risk to humans.

Ticks infected with the parasite may be able to spread the disease to humans through biting, but this has not been proven. Human piroplasmosis is uncommon and is usually associated with different strains of Babesia.

Clinical signs of equine piroplasmosis

The clinical signs of equine piroplasmosis vary and are often non-specific; the disease can easily be confused with other conditions. Equine piroplasmosis can occur in several different forms:

Where equine piroplasmosis is found

Equine piroplasmosis has never been found in a Canadian horse. However, competent tick vectors do exist in Canada. Equine piroplasmosis is found in parts of Europe, Africa, South and Central America, the Middle East and Asia. The U.S. has reported localized outbreaks in the past few years.

How equine piroplasmosis is transmitted and spread

Equine piroplasmosis is not directly contagious. It is transferred by blood from an infected animal to a susceptible animal or insect. Ticks are the main vector of transmission as they are a natural host for the parasites. It can also be transmitted by contaminated needles and syringes. Foals can become infected while in the uterus, particularly with T. equi.

Some horses can carry the parasite in their blood for a long time and can act as sources of infection for ticks. Introduction of these carrier animals into disease-free areas can lead to new cases of piroplasmosis if ticks are prevalent.

Infection is seasonal and is most likely to occur shortly after peaks in the tick population. Tick activity tends to increase with warmer temperatures.

The main risk factor for introducing equine piroplasmosis into Canada is through importing infected animals.

How equine piroplasmosis is diagnosed

The disease is suspected in horses with a history of travel that have anemia, yellowing of the gums or eyes, or fever. Laboratory tests are necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

How equine piroplasmosis is treated

Equine piroplasmosis can be difficult to treat. New treatment protocols have been established that have shown to be effective in clearing equine piroplasmosis caused by either B. caballi or T. equi.

The medications used to treat piroplasmosis may cause horses to become ill. Side effects include colic, diarrhea and rarely, death.

Regulations to prevent transmission of equine piroplasmosis

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) places strict regulations on the import of animals and animal products from countries where equine piroplasmosis is known to occur. These regulations are enforced through port-of-entry inspections done by both the CFIA and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Equine piroplasmosis is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA for immediate investigation by inspectors.

Canada's emergency response strategy to an outbreak

Disease control methods for equine piroplasmosis

Canada's emergency response strategy to an outbreak of equine piroplasmosis would be to:

In an effort to eliminate equine piroplasmosis, the CFIA may use some or all of the following disease control methods:

If an owner has an animal that is ordered euthanized, they may be eligible for compensation.

Additional information

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