Babesia Piroplasmosis | Cabinet Veterinaire International

Piroplasmosis Infections and Babesia in Dogs
Humans cannot contract Babesia from a dog
Piroplasmosis in Humans

Piroplasmosis Infections and Babesia in Dogs

In humans, the symptoms of Piroplasmosis, a disease caused by the parasite Babesia, closely resemble those of malaria. In dogs, the symptoms can seem similar to those of rabies. In both cases, the resemblances are of no consequence – treatment in response to a misdiagnosis will not benefit the patient. What is consequential are the implications of Piroplasmosis, a disease that must be treated quickly and specifically to avoid severe complications that can lead to life-altering effects…and even death.

In 2010, an Australian man was hospitalized following a car accident. He had sustained renal, liver, and skeletal injuries. He was 56 years old. The man had a history of depression, substance abuse, and diabetes; but none of that explained why, after four months in the hospital, he had become anemic with low blood platelet counts and hepatic (liver) dysfunction. He was treated for malaria, but sadly that treatment was not appropriate. Later, it was determined that the man had somehow contracted Babesia, had developed a Piroplasmosis infection, and as a result of delayed treatment, passed away. This story, as confirmed by Murdock University, is atypical, in that it is the first human case of Piroplasmosis in Australian history. Medical researchers find it especially puzzling because the method of contraction is still unclear. His son tested negative for Babesia. The man had not traveled to any country known for Piroplasmosis (U.S., Asia, Europe) in 40 years (he did travel to New Zealand, but there had never been a reported case in that region). It was initially believed that he may have contracted it through past blood transfusions, but testing eliminated that possibility. The only explanation is that the parasite is making its way onto the continent via ticks carried on seabirds and seafaring rats. In other cases of human Piroplasmosis, patients have experienced chills and accompanying fever, multiple organ failure, and even death.

In Massachusetts alone, the number of human Piroplasmosis cases doubled in 2011. Other research (Massachusetts, United States, 2011) has revealed that the elderly are most vulnerable to Babesia’s effects – including more numerous symptoms, more severe symptoms, and an increased risk of death.  Babesia might be harbored without symptoms in an individual’s bloodstream for years, but with suppression of immunity, splenectomy, and increased age comes the increased likelihood that a serious Piroplasmosis infection may develop.

Babesia and the Piroplasmosis it causes are becoming serious concerns, worldwide. A parasite that was once thought to be contained within certain geographical areas is now finding ways to cross oceans and travel thousands of miles to infect populations that were once believed to be immune. Even though human and canine Piroplasmosis are caused by two different strains of Babesia and are not transferrable from canine to human or human to canine, Piroplasmosis, as a whole, is on the rise.

At Cabinet Veterinaire International, dog owners are often surprised to learn that such a severe illness can result from something as simple as a tick bite. That’s why we are committed to educating people about how the disease is contracted and about what can be done to stop it. The following are some common questions regarding Babesia and Piroplasmosis – and the answers to those questions.

What is Babesia and why is it dangerous? There are more than 100 recognized strains of Babesia, single-cell organisms that feed on red blood cells. Each protozoon reproduces, inside blood cells, by splitting itself into two cells. This process continues until the blood cell is inundated with the parasites and it bursts open. Babesia organisms are released into the bloodstream, free to corrupt and destroy more red blood cells. As the damage continues, the victim may experience anemia (low red blood cell count), central nervous system complications due to dead blood cells blocking capillaries, muscle death, and more.

How does Babesia get into the bloodstream? There are a number of ways this parasite makes its way into hosts, but the most common Babesia vehicle is the tick. If a tick has fed upon blood infected with a canine strain of Babesia, it is likely that it has ingested Babesia-infected blood. When that tick moves onto its next host, it can transfer the Babesia to its new host.

Other, less common, methods of Babesia communication are possible, too. If a dog receives a blood transfusion of Babesia-tainted blood, that dog can develop Piroplasmosis (even if the donor showed no symptoms). This is why Babesia canis vogeli is most commonly found in the blood of Greyhounds – they often receive same-breed transfusions and the blood is not always screened for the presence of Babesia. If a dam is harboring Babesia in her bloodstream, she can pass the parasites along to her unborn pups, regardless of whether the mother dog displays signs of Piroplasmosis. If two dogs are either engaged in a brawl or accidentally come in some other sort of blood-to-blood contact with each other, Babesia can possibly be transferred from one to the other. Babesia gibsoni is found most commonly in Pit bull breeds, adding weight to research that has determined that aggressive dogs (or dogs that are permitted to fight regularly) are more likely to contract Babesia.

How can I prevent Piroplasmosis? The best way to prevent a canine Piroplasmosis infection is to prevent Babesia from making its way into the bloodstream of your dog. This means using a product that is formulated to discourage ticks from latching onto your dog. Always test any product on your dog’s paw for 24 hours before applying the entire recommended dose. After you have eliminated the possibility of adverse reactions, use the product only as directed (of course, call your dog’s veterinarian immediately if any undesirable side effects are experienced).

In addition to using an anti-tick product, be sure to examine your dog’s skin for crawling and imbedded ticks daily. If a tick has already latched onto your dog, simply use a tweezers to grip the tick’s head as close to your dog’s body as possible and pull it straight out with one smooth motion. Drop the tick into a sealed contained containing rubbing alcohol and disinfect the bite area.

Do not allow your dog to participate in fights with other dogs.
Do not allow your dog to be bred without first testing your dog and its mate for Babesia.
If, for any reason, your dog is in need of a blood transfusion, do not accept any donation that has not been screened for the presence of Babesia.

Finally, vaccinate your dog for Piroplasmosis. Your dog may still contract the Babesia parasite (and will still be able to pass it on to other dogs), but Piroplasmosis symptoms will likely be mild or nonexistent.