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Equine Piroplasmosis
 By Winniefield Park   •   13th Sep 2016   •   1,273 views   •   0 comments
Equine Piroplasmosis

Equine Piroplasmosis is not a disease I had heard of until I read it in a recent headline. Formerly, the United States was part of a small percentage of countries free of the disease. It has reemerged however and this summer seventeen racehorses in Tennessee were discovered to have had the disease, also referred to as EP. In cattle, it may be referred to as Babesiosis although it is not caused by precisely the same protozoa. It’s still not a common disease in North America, but it is enough of a concern that eighteen states require horses to be tested if they are traveling through. It’s regarded as a reportable disease because it is possible for both humans and livestock to become ill with it.

Like Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, EP is caused by a parasite. The parasite does not dwell in the horse’s gut like ascracids or bot. This microscopic parasite lives in the horse’s blood. There are two ways EP can be transferred between animals. It can be carried by a tick, or it can be carried on improperly disinfected medical tools like needles, surgical tools, and dental equipment. So in areas where the parasite exists, extra diligence has to be paid to make sure all equipment is clean. Transmission by ticks is less likely, but the insect responsible is Rhipicephalus, a species of hard backed brown tick, unlike the soft black-legged tick responsible for carrying the Lyme disease protozoa.

Related: Horses and Lyme Disease

It can take from one to three weeks for a horse to show signs of EP. A horse with EP is likely to appear ‘sick’ with a slight fever, poor appetite, and weakness. These may be the only signs something is awry, and the horse may recover on its own. More serious symptoms can develop such as jaundice, breathing difficulties, fever, anemia and distended abdomen. The horse may show neurological problems, and over time the coat may become unhealthy. The horse’s urine may be stained red and it may suffer from impaction and colic. While some horses may die of the disease, others will be unaffected. If the horse does survive, the parasite can persist in the horse’s blood for a very long time. This, of course, increases the chances of the disease being transferred by either ticks or veterinary tools. The only way the disease is transferred is through tools or ticks, and isn’t transferred from horse to horse like a flu virus or cold.

If a horse gets EP, there’s not a lot that can be done. The drug that is used for treating dogs is tricky to use with horses - overdosing is possible. Not all horses respond to the drugs in the same way. Treating the symptoms to keep the horse comfortable is the most common approach. There is also no vaccine to protect a horse from the parasite. The only prevention is to thoroughly clean any tools that could carry the parasites and avoid and remove any ticks. Insect repellents may help in an area where ticks are known to live.

Should we be worried about EP? It is still a relatively rare disease in horses. Testing helps identify horses who are carrying the disease and means they will be quarantined until deemed clear of the parasite. And, there haven’t been a lot of severe cases so far. Because there are states that require testing, you need to have this done before you start traveling with your horse.
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