Abstract

Equine piroplasmosis (EP) is a tick-borne disease caused by Theileria equi and Babesia caballi in equids, including horses, donkeys, zebras, and mules. It is globally endemic with significant economic impact on the equine industry. Infected animals may serve as carriers, and they may be a source of infection for ticks, thereby posing a great challenge for disease management. Sri Lanka is a tropical country, where infections by various tick-borne parasites are common among livestock animals. However, infections by T. equi and B. caballi remain unstudied in Sri Lanka. Therefore, in the present study, we conducted an epidemiological survey to investigate the presence of T. equi and B. caballi in apparently healthy free-roaming donkeys. Blood samples were randomly taken from 111 donkeys in Mannar (n=100) and Kilinochchi (n=11) districts in Sri Lanka. Thin blood smears were prepared from the blood samples and subjected to microscopic examination. Additionally, blood DNA samples were prepared and screened for T. equi and B. caballi infections using species-specific PCR assays. Our results showed that 64 (57.7%) and 95 (85.6%) of the donkeys were positive for T. equi by microscopy and PCR, respectively. However, all samples were negative for B. caballi. Phylogenetic analysis of the T. equi 18S rRNA sequences detected two distinct genotypes, namely C and D. To our knowledge, this is the first report of T. equi in Sri Lanka and of genotype C in donkeys. The present study highlights the importance of monitoring the shrinking donkey population in Sri Lanka owing to EP caused by T. equi.

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