Piroplasmosis Infections and Babesia in Dogs
Humans cannot contract Babesia from a dog
Piroplasmosis in Humans
Piroplasmosis Infections and Babesia in Dogs
Instances of tick-borne diseases are on the rise, and one that’s not getting the dishonor it deserves is Piroplasmosis – a serious illness caused by infection with the parasite Babesia.
Like Lyme disease, Piroplasmosis is making deadly appearances in geographical areas that, until recently, had not experienced its effects. Scientists attribute its cross-continent navigation to Babesia-carrying ticks that hitch rides on seafaring rodents and birds. Once the carriers settle into their new environments, the ticks detach and move onto new hosts, to which they can pass on all the parasites they’ve brought from overseas. To date, cases have been reported in The United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The idea that certain areas are immune to parasites like Babesia is being disproven – with unfortunate consequences.
Both humans and canines can contract Babesia and develop Piroplasmosis; however, each is susceptible to different strains of the parasite, meaning that humans cannot develop Piroplasmosis by contracting a canine-specific Babesia…and vice-versa. Furthermore, human and canine symptoms have some commonalities, but do differ notably (in severe cases, canine Piroplasmosis can resemble rabies and human Piroplasmosis can resemble malaria). Elderly humans seem to be more vulnerable to Piroplasmosis symptoms, with results of a 2011 Massachusetts study showing that humans can carry the parasite without symptoms, but when the spleen is removed, immunity is compromised, or age is advanced, Piroplasmosis is more likely to develop. Likewise, if a dog’s spleen has been removed or the dog’s immune system has been weakened for any reason, the risk of profound infection symptoms increases.
In 2011, diagnosed human Piroplasmosis cases increased by 100 percent in Massachusetts alone. For this reason, among others, precautionary treatment, even in the absence of a positive Babesia test, is crucial – because if left untreated, it is not uncommon for Piroplasmosis to result in death. One such case occurred in Australia, when a man, 56 years old, who had suffered injuries in a vehicular accident and was hospitalized for a period of 4 months, developed symptoms that seemed like those of malaria (anemia, chills, fever, low platelet count, and a dysfunctional liver). The man was treated for malaria, but it soon became evident that he had been misdiagnosed. Doctors didn’t suspect Piroplasmosis because no human cases had ever been documented in Australia. The man hadn’t left the continent for 40 years (he’d traveled to New Zealand, but no cases had been documented there either), his dog tested negative for Babesia (even though dogs cannot transmit Piroplasmosis to humans), and the man’s son was not carrying the parasite. Regrettably, the man died before his Piroplasmosis treatment could take effect.
In order to raise awareness of Piroplasmosis, Cabinet Veterinaire International wants to educate you about how Babesia inhabits its host, how it’s contracted, how it’s diagnosed and treated, the symptoms of Piroplasmosis, its complications, and its prevention.
Babesia Basics: Babesia is a protozoon, or a single-cell organism. It is also a parasite, meaning that it thrives by living in, and potentially harming the wellbeing of, a host. Babesia comes in more than 100 varieties, but only a limited number cause ill effects when introduced into the bloodstream of a dog.
Single-cell organisms like Babesia reproduce by splitting in two, and that’s just what they do once they find their ways into a bloodstream. If your dog becomes infected with Babesia, the parasites will head straight for its new host’s red blood cells. There, it will divide again and again until the host cells become so engorged that they rupture, spewing forth new Babesia into the dog’s bloodstream. These new parasites are free to find and inhabit their own red blood cells and to replicate again and again…until the destruction of red blood cells is so profound that the animal’s blood count drops and the dead cells block the capillaries leading to the central nervous system and cut off oxygen to tissues.
Babesia Transmission: As mentioned earlier, you cannot contract Babesia or the Piroplasmosis it causes from your dog. But there are a number of ways that the parasite can travel from one canine to another and cause illness.
A dam infected with Babesia can transmit the parasite to her unborn pups. Supporting evidence of this chronicles the journey of a dam and her 3-day-old puppies, all of which tested positive.
Blood transfusions from infected canines will introduce Babesia into recipients’ bodies.
When a Babesia-infected canine has an open wound and that wound comes in contact with another dog’s open wound, it is possible for the parasite to travel from one bloodstream to the other.
Probably the most clandestine method of Babesia transferal is the tick. When a tick ingests Babesia-laden blood from one canine host and then latches onto another canine host, it will regurgitate some matter into the new host – and that may include Babesia.
Babesia Diagnosis: There are two common ways that Babesia is detected in the blood of a patient. A blood sample can be drawn and scrutinized under microscopic examination. If the laboratory technician is fastidious and thoroughly inspects the sample, any Babesia that may be present in the red blood cells will be visible. Of course, the accuracy of this type of testing depends upon the competency of the technician, the blood sample taken, and the concentration of Babesia in the blood. Another test that may replace this method or may be used in conjunction with it is the PCR, or polymerase chain reaction test.
Babesia and Piroplasmosis Treatment: Whenever Piroplasmosis symptoms are present, Cabinet Veterinaire International recommends treatment – even if test results are negative. This is purely a precautionary measure, but since timely treatment is key to recovery, we would rather treat than give Babesia an opportunity to create irreversible effects.
Communicate promptly and openly with your dog’s veterinarian. Ask questions about the treatment’s side effects and duration. Because every animal is unique and the severities of infections vary, the type and length of treatment will differ from dog to dog. Therapy will likely consist of injectable medications, hydration to protect organs, and maybe even a blood transfusion.