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

Babesia is a protozoan parasite that causes a serious, life-threatening illness known as Piroplasmosis. The disease is largely unheard-of, particularly within geographical regions where people believe they’re safe from its grip.

Both humans and dogs are vulnerable to the effects of Babesia – even though they are affected by two different strains of the parasite. In its worst form, human Piroplasmosis looks much like malaria. The tick-borne disease (Piroplasmosis) can also take human life, just like the mosquito-borne disease (malaria).

As we all know, knowledge is power; and as with the avoidance and management of most communicable diseases, the more knowledge you possess, the more power you have in the Piroplasmosis fight. This was never so obvious than in Australia’s first recognized case of Piroplasmosis. As the story goes, a man, 56 years of age, had sustained serious injuries in an automobile accident, including damage to his liver and his kidneys. He also suffered broken bones. Near the end of his 4-month recovery, doctors noticed that he had suddenly fallen anemic. His platelet counts had dropped. His liver was functioning improperly, in a way that did not incriminate the injuries he had sustained in the accident. He was falling ill from something that doctors could not identify. No one thought to test for Piroplasmosis. Human Babesia simply didn’t exist in Australia – at least that’s what everyone seemed to be thinking when they started treatment for malaria (due in large part to the ring-shaped parasites that were visible on the man’s blood slides). The malaria treatment was ineffective, and by the time Piroplasmosis treatment had begun, it was already too late. The man perished only 5 days later – an unfortunate victim of a human strain of Babesia.

Of course, the diagnosis puzzled medical personnel. How could this man have contracted a disease that had never been documented on the continent? How…when he hadn’t traveled overseas (excepting to New Zealand, which had no documented cases either) for 40 years? How…when his son had tested negative for Babesia? And how…when even the man’s dog showed no sign of the canine version of the disease? The only answer was the tick; specifically, the ticks that travel into Australia on people, seabirds, and rodents from The United States, Europe, and Asia. It seems that no region is immune. This explanation has sparked plenty of concern, for reasons that we can all readily imagine.

Human Piroplasmosis symptoms include multiple organ failure, fever, chills, anemia, and low platelet counts, among others. It has been determined that in 2011, human Piroplasmosis cases in Massachusetts, U.S. alone have increased two-fold. In that same state, a study revealed that senior citizens are much more susceptible to its devastating effects. It seems that a healthy person with a hardy immune system can carry Babesia in their bloodstream for an undetermined amount of time. Then, if the spleen is removed, if the immune system is negotiated in any way or for any reason, or if advanced age is reached, symptoms will appear, and can hit with acute severity or become a chronic, difficult-to-treat disease. If any symptoms arise that could be attributed to Piroplasmosis, cautionary treatment is most always recommended.

There’s plenty of bad news regarding tick-borne parasites like Babesia, but there’s also good news, too. Humans and canines cannot communicate Babesia to each other (each strain is specific to its host) and there is plenty that we can do to protect man’s best friend from its devastating effects. Remember, knowledge is power, and here it is:

Babesia Transmission is accomplished in a number of ways, one of which is open-wound contact. If two dogs are permitted to fight, and both sustain bloody wounds, Babesia can make its way from one dog’s bloodstream to the other. Blood transfusions and donations are also viable ways for the parasite to move from one host to another. Vertical transmission is a likely possibility, too – proven by a case in which a mamma dog transferred Babesia to her young pups (they were three days old when tested, making in-utero transmission the only feasible answer). Ticks carry Babesia, and are responsible for too many Piroplasmosis cases. When a ticks gorges on the blood of an infected host, it can transmit the Babesia to its next victim. You cannot contract Babesia or Piroplasmosis from your dog; however, your dog can transmit Babesia to other canines, even if your dog is displaying no symptoms.

All 100 species of Babesia are fairly simplistic, in that each is only a single-cell organism; however, the devastation they can cause is nothing short of complex. When these little freeloaders find their ways into a new bloodstream, they rush to find healthy red blood cells. They penetrate the red cells and reside inside. There, they multiply by splitting, as most single cells do. Eventually, they run out of room in the red blood cell and the host cell’s walls burst, sending Babesia tumbling through the bloodstream, free to find new red cells to inhabit and annihilate.

The Diagnosis of Piroplasmosis can be accomplished by looking at a blood sample under a microscope (the Babesia will be visible within the cells); however, this method is highly conditional on the aptitude of the laboratory technician as well as on how much Babesia is present in the blood sample. The PCR, or polymerase chain reaction test, is more reliable and should be requested in the event that a microscopic examination test comes up negative.

Testing for Piroplasmosis should be requested if your dog experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • diminished hunger
  • sluggishness
  • low blood pressure
  • anemia
  • low platelets
  • hyper immune response
  • low blood pressure
  • enlarged spleen
  • leg weakness
  • skin irritation
  • jaundice
  • low hemoglobin
  • ear twitching
  • blindness
  • limping
  • respiratory difficulties
  • complications with digestion
  • muscle tremors
  • shock
  • low organ function
  • difficulty controlling bladder
  • organ failure
  • high globulin count
  • central nervous system problems
  • sciatic nerve neuropathy
  • loss of coordination
  • seizures
  • coma
  • muscle tenderness
  • hypersensitivity of the face and/or mouth
  • hemorrhaging of muscle
  • death of muscle
  • brown urine
  • high protein counts