A high number of donkeys have tested positive for protozoan parasites in central Italy, with researchers saying a surveillance programme is urgently needed.
Fulvio Laus and his colleagues conducted tests on 138 donkeys of mixed breed, comprising 109 females, seven stallions and 22 geldings. They ranged in age from 1 to 22.
The animals lived on eight different farms in central Italy, in an area chosen due to the high prevalence of tickborne pathogens previously found in equids, the proven presence of the ticks, and because vets had frequently reported heavy tick infestations.
All the animals were born and reared in Italy and had never been moved out of the country.
The survey was performed between March and October 2013 in farms of varying nature and size, including herds for milk production
The researchers, whose findings have been reported in the journal, BMC Veterinary Research, took blood samples and conducted a test for antibodies against Theileria equi and Babesia caballi, both of which cause equine piroplasmosis.
They found a seroprevalence – indicating current or previous exposure to the disease-causing pathogens – of 40.6 percent for T. equi and 47.8 percent for B. caballi. The researchers reported that positivity for both was detected in 19.6 percent of the animals.
They also conducted polimerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect the presence of the protozoa. Results showed that 17.4 percent were positive for T.equi and 3.6 percent for B. caballi. No donkeys were positive for both.
The researchers found that 12 donkeys – 8.7 percent – had clinical signs consistent with chronic forms of the disease, but no acute forms were detected.
Fifty-eight donkeys were found to have blood and and serum bilirubin (liver) alterations significantly associated with either positive or symptomatic animals.
“Nonspecific clinical presentation seems to be very common in donkeys,” they reported, with several clinical pathology alterations found to be persisting after natural infection.
“Therefore, apparently healthy donkeys can have masked but severe clinical pathology alterations.”
Acute forms of the disease were seldom seen in donkeys, they noted.
“Clinical monitoring of chronically infected donkeys is recommended since such animals represent a risk both for transmission to other animals [via ticks] and for their own health; furthermore, their production performances could be reduced.
“Currently, there is no suitable pharmacotherapy available to clear the T. equi infection from affected donkeys.
“It has therefore become urgent to act with surveillance plans and preventive therapy.”
Clinical investigation on Theileria equi and Babesia caballi infections in Italian donkeys.
Fulvio Laus, Andrea Spaterna, Vanessa Faillace, Fabrizia Veronesi, Silvia Ravagnan, Francesca Beribé, Matteo Cerquetella, Marina Meligrana1 and Beniamino Tesei.
BMC Veterinary Research 2015, 11:100 doi:10.1186/s12917-015-0411-z
The full study can be read here.