The tick-borne equine hemoparasite, Theileria equi, is endemic in many parts of the world where prevalence may be high, and most infected horses are apparently healthy but serve as life-long carriers. To determine the factors that affect T. equi dynamics, we followed parasitic loads in apparently healthy horses at four time points during one year. A total of 1094 blood samples were collected from 395 horses, along with ticks and demographic and clinical data. Infection and load of T. equi were tested by PCR and qPCR, and for the spring dataset, infection was also tested serologically by IFAT (n = 268). Theileria equi was molecularly detected in 64.8 % of the horses. The agreement between molecular and serological results was 79.8 % (K > 0.674) and positively correlated with parasitic load. Infection was associated with pale mucus membranes, lower packed cell volume and higher total solids (all P < 0.001), although these changes had only minor clinical importance. While parasitic loads in qPCR-positive samples (n = 561) were generally low (mean = 7.9−10−4% parasitized erythrocytes), younger horses showed higher loads, possibly suggesting development of immunity. Infection and parasitic load were associated with housing management and tick exposure, illustrating different patterns of exposure. Endemic stability is suggested in pasture farms with constant exposure to ticks, where parasite prevalence was high (96 %) and associated with T. equi 18S rRNA genotype D, low parasitemia and high antibody titers. Endemic instability can be suggested in case were horses are kept in paddocks (prevalence = 49 %) with intermittent exposure to ticks, where infection was associated with high parasitemia when ticks were present. A steady state is suggested in stabled horses (prevalence = 46 %), with no exposure to ticks; where infection was associated with genotype A, low parasitemia and low antibody titers. The ability to identify different risk groups within endemic areas may improve the administration of suitable treatment and control practices in an effort to reduce the risk of clinical disease.
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- Endemic area
- Equine piroplasmosis
- Theileria equi