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Parassitologia. 1999 Sep;41 Suppl 1:95-100.

Tick-borne diseases in ruminants of Central and Southern Italy: epidemiology and case reports.

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Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Abruzzo e Molise G. Caporale, Teramo, Italy.


Sera and blood from cattle and sheep were examined for the presence of Babesia and Theileria spp by microscopy and serology at the Parasitology Department of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale of Abruzzo and Molise (IZSAM). Of the 47 bovine herds (323 animals) tested, 15 were found positive for Babesia bigemina and 1 for Babesia bovis. Two outbreaks occurred, one caused by B. bigemina and one by B. bovis. The B. bigemina outbreak occurred in Abruzzo and has been followed for two years. The isolate of B. bigemina was very pathogenic leading to the death of two cows out of 57. The vector responsible of the transmission appeared to be Rhipicephalus bursa. Parasites were observed in the erythrocytes for 30 days whereas sera were positive to indirect immunofluorescence (IFA) for at least one year. The B. bovis outbreak occurred in the province of Mantova (Northern Italy) in a group of 70 beef cattle imported from France. The infection resulted in the death of 5 animals and severe illness in another 6. In contrast with what occurred for Babesia infection, no clinical cases were recorded in cattle when species of Theileria were detected by microscopy. Of the 24 bovine herds (252 animals) tested for Theileria, 21 were found positive for the T. "sergenti"/buffeli/orientalis group. Single and mixed infection of T. "sergenti" and T. buffeli/orientalis were detected in herds of cross-bred cattle from Abruzzo and Marche. The parasites were identified by using a polymerase chain reaction which amplified DNA encoding p32/34. Most of the collected ticks (90%) were adults of R. bursa whereas the others were adults of Hyalomma detritum. During the period the animals have been observed (18 months), no clinical cases have been recorded and no associations have been found between blood abnormalities and animals found infected with Theileria. Prevalences of subclinically infected carriers increased from February till December (95.4%) even if the animals were indoors and no ticks were present. The prevalence then dropped dramatically six months later (76.7%). In calves less than 1 year old, the prevalence of infection significantly (p<0.05) increased with age, however intraerythrocytic stages of Theileria were found in the blood of three newborn calves (<7 days of age). Of the 18 ovine flocks tested for Babesia spp. (150 animals examined), 1 was positive for B. ovis and 2 for B. motasi. B. motasi infection was not associated with symptoms, while an outbreak of babesiosis caused by B. ovis occurred in Abruzzo. The infection resulted in the death of 3 animals (0.75% of the flock), two rams (20% of the total number) and a ewe, and severe illness in another 5 ewes (2% of the flock). Specimens of R. bursa and R. turanicus were collected from the infected animals. Of the 18 flocks (150 animals) examined, 12 were microscopically positive for Theileria spp. No clinical cases were recorded and identification at species level was not possible on the basis of morphological criteria. The prevalence distribution of infected herds and infected animals within herds and flocks have been calculated by a Monte Carlo simulation model, running 10,000 iterations. The most likely levels of prevalence of infected herds and infected animals within herds found for the species observed were as follows: 20% for B. bigemina with a prevalence within herd of 27%, 11% for B. bovis (18% within herd), 10% for Babesia ovis (19% within herd), 10% for B. motasi (17.5% within herd), 63% for Theileria in cattle (66% within herd) and 51% for Theileria in sheep (55% within herd).

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