Developing a Piroplasmosis Control Strategy for Sudan

Developing a Piroplasmosis Control Strategy for Sudan

Piroplasmosis prevalence in Africa can affect its presence on other, nontropical continents. The spread to such environments, such as Europe, could be related to increased equine movement, a growing population of ticks, and global warming.

Photo: James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control

Governments and international organizations continually strive to improve equine import and export worldwide while maintaining disease spread. The African country of Sudan, for instance, is facing a particular endemic (native) challenge—equine piroplasmosis—head-on, and an international research team hopes to develop a nationwide control strategy to prevent spread to other nations.

That team is currently mapping out geographic locations where piroplasmosis has been reported and where it has spread in Sudan and developing a new diagnostic test for the disease.

Across Sudan, as many as 35.9% of “healthy” horses and donkeys are positive for pirosplasmosis, said Bashir Salim, PhD, research fellow in the department of parasitology at the University of Khartoum Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in Khartoum-North, Sudan. Working with researchers from Kenya, Germany, the U.K., and Japan, Salim has been gathering and analyzing data from all Sudanese states over the past seven years.

A proper piroplasmosis management strategy requires an accurate identification of the protozoa species that causes this tick-borne disease, Salim said. In his study he investigated the use of a novel technique for differentiating protozoal species (primarily Theileria equi and Babesia caballi) based on a technique called capillary electrophoresis genotyping for a single gene (18s rRNA). The technique is easy to use, highly sensitive, and essentially rules out the possibility of false positives, which are problematic with other testing methods currently available in Africa, he said.

“This technique requires equipped government laboratories, especially in the Darfur region where the bulk of the horses are (piroplasmosis positive),” said Salim. “The situation in Sudan still lies far below being able to afford these facilities, but I do recommend using this method when facilities are available.”

Current piroplasmosis management of the approximately 3 million privately owned equids in Sudan is limited to acaricide (a pesticide) for tick prevention and treatment with the drug Imizol in clinical cases, he said.

“Our study should help decision-makers and raise awareness about the current situation,” Salim said. “Hopefully, that will help in drawing up control measures for the disease, which, prior to the availability of a proper diagnostic technique, is crucial.”

Piroplasmosis prevalence in Africa can certainly affect its presence on other, nontropical continents, said Liv Sigg, DVM, PhD, researcher at the equine clinic in the department of clinical veterinary medicine at the University of Berne, in Switzerland. The disease's spread to such environments as Europe and North America is probably related to increased equine movement, a growing population of both ticks and their hosts (horses and other mammals), and global warming, she said.

Of the world's horse population, only about 10% live in countries deemed free of equine piroplasmosis; the United States is one of those regions. However, recent disease outbreaks in America have prompted further investigation into its re-emergence and control. (Editor's note: For more information on equine piroplasmosis in America, see Equine Piroplasmosis in America: Re-Emergence and Control on

The study, "Current status of equine piroplasmosis in the Sudan," will appear in an upcoming issue of Infection, Genetics and Evolution

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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