Piroplasmosis: Scientific Information Needed

Don't you just hate people who complain all the time and aren't willing to do something about the problem? Me, too. I have been harping on piroplasmosis in this column for the last two months, and we've been covering the controversy stirred up by this little parasite for a year or more. Because of this, The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care, in cooperation with several other groups and organizations, is planning to put together a special report on piroplasmosis in next month's issue.

This information won't be about the politics of the disease, or about who said what about who. It is being planned for the express purpose of looking at the science behind the disease, and the specifics about how it affects horses.

Yes, the waivers will be discussed. Yes, it is likely that the opinions of some individuals and groups will be brought up. But, what the horse-owning public wants to know is: "Can these horses coming over from countries endemic for piroplasmosis, or horses which test positive for the disease, cause me concern or problems here in the United States? IS IT SAFE?"

It's tough to get information about this disease here in North America. It's a blood-borne parasite that is passed by ticks. It's a disease that can cause mild to severe illness, even death, or it can be carried by the animal without clinical signs. The horse also can develop antibodies and not have any of the parasites left in its' body. (For further information see The Horse of January 1996, page 6.)

There is very little research centered around the problem, and practitioners here don't have to deal with it. In other parts of the world where the disease is endemic (just about everywhere outside North America but England, Ireland, Japan, and Australia), horse owners and veterinarians are used to dealing with the horses which become sick, and the fact that horses often carry the parasite without clinical signs.

The information about the disease is pretty straightforward. The practicalities of dealing with the unknown are what cause concern. Plus, there are the logistics of working around very stringent regulations with no previous experience. Some people will say this isn't a first--that waivers for piroplasmosis-positive horses have been granted for top-level events before. But they have never been granted for a climate like Georgia or for a geographic location where there are possible tick vectors that might be able to transmit the disease.

With all that we know, there is still a lot we don't know.

I have been extremely encouraged by the enthusiasm of those contacted thus far. The need for information on the science and health issues of piroplasmosis has been uniformly championed. There is still concern in some areas that the political side of the issue will dominate, or that the equestrian Federations from Europe will see this as an opportunity to re-open talks about the waivers.

That will not be the case.

This gathering of information will be designed to discuss and disseminate the best science known about piroplasmosis and horses. It will be an opportunity to bring together veterinarians, researchers, and regulators who have dealt with--or at the Olympics will have to deal with--horses which either have antibodies to the parasite or are carriers of the parasite.

This will be a chance for those of us in the United States to gain a better understanding of a disease that we rarely see, and for those interested parties from around the world to realize how concerned we are about the health and welfare of our susceptible population of 6.6 million horses.

Offers of participation and support have come from many sections. Those in charge of the Olympic games in Georgia (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, ACOG), the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the American Assocition of Equine Practitioners, and the veterinarians who will oversee the equine section of the Olympics all have been enthusiastic in supporting the idea of getting out correct information about piroplasmosis.

We at The Horse--as a publication dedicated exclusively to equine health, and directed toward professional owners, breeders, and trainers of all breeds and disciplines--feel a responsibility to disseminate the most accurate, up-to-date information available on any topic of concern to our readers.

Therefore, we invite you not only to share in the knowledge concerning piroplasmosis that will be gathered and printed in the magazine , but to share your views about piroplasmosis with us through mail, fax (606/276-4450), or through our World Wide Web site at http://www.thehorse.com.

Please join us in our endeavor to put the health and well-being of horses ahead of hype and politics, and give us your input and opinions on the piroplasmosis conference.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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