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Veterinary Forum October 2009 (Vol 26, No 10)

Drug can eliminate parasite that causes babesiosis in horses

    A drug commonly used to treat cattle and occasionally dogs for a blood parasite can, at a relatively high dose, completely eliminate the parasite Babesia caballi from horses, according to a recent study conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

    B. caballi, a blood parasite transmitted by ticks, is one of the culprits of babesiosis in horses.

    In response to the needs of US veterinarians, Don Knowles, research leader, and his colleagues at the ARS Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, WA, studied the effectiveness of imidocarb dipropionate in horses. They found that a relatively high dose of the drug not only eliminated B. caballi, but also left the horses incapable of transmitting babesiosis.

    Imidocarb dipropionate has been used in the United States for many years to treat diseases like Texas fever, also referred to as cattle fever or babesiosis in cattle.

    Though the high dose of the drug is generally well-tolerated by horses, some side effects include gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. Similar collaborative research is being conducted concerning the effectiveness of imidocarb and other potential drugs on B. (Theileria) equi, another cause of equine babesiosis.

    The ARS researchers collaborated with scientists at Washington State University in Pullman and with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

    In the United States, babesiosis is considered a foreign disease in horses, although it is common in nearby locales such as Puerto Rico. Horses can appear healthy, but still transmit the disease. Horses presented for import into the United States are tested at the border. Those that test positive are either euthanized or returned to their place of origin. However, infected horses occasionally escape detection and enter the United States. These horses are often retested for subsequent international movement, discovered to be infected, and placed under quarantine at great expense to both the state and the owner. Because of these costs, there is a great need for methods to eliminate the parasite from such horses and eliminate transmission risk.

    If approved for use in the United States, imidocarb dipropionate would offer a humane way to clear horses of B. caballi and allow the animals to enter or remain in the country.

    The study was published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

    Source: Sharon Durham, Agricultural Research Service, USDA

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