Piroplasmosis Infections and Babesia in Dogs
Humans cannot contract Babesia from a dog
Piroplasmosis in Humans
Humans cannot contract Babesia from a dog
Not all dogs will develop these symptoms; in fact, it is not uncommon for a dog to carry the parasite in its bloodstream and never develop a single indicator. Some dogs will endure long-lasting, chronic symptoms. Yet others, like Sammy, will suffer from symptoms that come on quickly with devastating consequences. If a dog’s spleen has been removed, the chances that complications will develop quickly and with profound effects are high (In one such case, a splenectomized fox terrier, 3 years old, died only 2 days after the first symptom). Additionally, if a dog’s immune system is weak, it will not be able to fight the Babesia as well as a healthy immune system would – meaning that any dog with compromised immunity is more susceptible.
Let’s back up and talk about the science behind Babesia. Incredibly, this powerful villain is only a single-cell organism. When one of these parasites finds its way into the bloodstream of a new host, it enters a red blood cell. There, it gathers nutrition so that it can split into two cells. The red blood cell now contains two Babesia protozoa and each of them proceeds to divide until the blood cell is bursting with the parasites. When the cell reaches its capacity, it bursts open and the new Babesia organisms are sent forth into the host’s bloodstream to find new red blood cells to inhabit and destroy.
Babesia’s behavior can cause anemia because it reduces the number of viable red blood cells in the bloodstream. It can also cause problems when those annihilated blood cells clump in capillaries and inhibit the proper amount of oxygen from reaching vital organs, the central nervous system, and muscle tissue.
More than 100 species of Babesia exist, but only a few of them are detrimental to a canine’s wellbeing, including B. gibsoni and B. canis vogeli. The former is most prevalent in the American pit bull population due to high instances of fighting and open-wound transmission. The latter is predominant in the Greyhound breed due to the high number of unscreened blood transfusions. Contraction of Babesia can happen by wound-to-wound contact or through blood donation, as mentioned above, but there are a few other ways this scoundrel can find its way into your dog’s bloodstream.
A mother can transmit Babesia to her unborn puppies, in utero. This has been confirmed by a case of some 3-day-old puppies that tested positive, alongside their dam.
And just as Sammy contracted the parasite, Babesia can be transmitted from one host to another when a tick ingests infected blood, detaches, and then regurgitates Babesia into its new host.
If canine-specific Babesia finds its way into a human host, that human’s wellbeing will not be negatively impacted – so Sammy’s owners, even though they are grief-stricken, have no reason to be alarmed about their own chances of developing Piroplasmosis.
It is imperative that in the presence of any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you ask your dog’s veterinarian to both test and treat for Piroplasmosis. Here’s why: To date, Piroplasmosis cases have only been reported in Europe, Australia, Asia, and The United States; however, this doesn’t mean it cannot hitch rides to new geographical areas in or on seabirds and rodents (it is believed that is how it crossed oceans to infect victims in four continents). It is still widely believed that there’s no reason to test for the parasite in countries without records of it – but Cabinet Veterinaire International disagrees.
There are two tests used to diagnose the illness – the polymerase chain reaction test (a.k.a. PCR) and manual blood examination by a laboratory technician under microscopic conditions, in which red blood cells are searched for the presence of the parasite. The former is considered to be more reliable than the latter, only because manual examination is subject to a higher human error factor.
Even if a diagnostic test for Piroplasmosis is negative, Cabinet Veterinaire International still recommends Piroplasmosis treatment, which may include injections, hydration, and a blood transfusion – depending upon the severity of symptoms and the individual animal’s response to treatment. Any side effects that may result from treatment will pale in comparison to the detriment that can be caused by full-blown Piroplasmosis. Insist on treatment. Your dog’s veterinarian can list any side effects that he or she expects. It is crucial that treatment be started as soon as feasible, because the symptoms of Piroplasmosis can compound quickly and cause irreversible damage.
The best course of action against the contraction of Babesia and the development of Piroplasmosis is prevention. First, we suggest that you purchase a product from your veterinarian that will help to prevent ticks from latching onto your dog in the first place. Of course, a spot test should be conducted to make sure your dog isn’t allergic to its components (a dab on the paw followed by a 24-hour observation period is sufficient). If your dog’s skin does not react negatively to the product, you may apply it according to the package’s instructions. In addition, it is vital that dog owners examine their dogs every day for the presence of ticks that are searching for their next meal. If any tick has had time to latch on and begin feeding, it should be removed in the same way Sammy’s owners removed ticks. Remember, the only thing they did wrong was waiting too long between examinations; daily examination is imperative because it generally takes at least 24 hours for a tick to transmit any blood-borne parasite(s) to its host. Just as we’ve learned from the plight of the American pit bull terrier and the Greyhound, canine skirmishes should be avoided and blood donations and transfusions should never be accepted unless they have been screened for Babesia. No breeding should occur until both the dam and the sire have been cleared. And finally, your dog should be treated to the Piroplasmosis vaccine, which will diminish the severity of any symptoms that may develop if Babesia is contracted.
As mentioned earlier, humans need not fear the possibility of contracting Babesia from their dogs; however, there are strains of Babesia that are human-specific, and that can be transferred among humans in the same ways that canine-specific Babesia can be shared among canines.
Canine Piroplasmosis symptoms, in their most severe forms, resemble those of a rabies infection. Human Piroplasmosis looks much like malaria, and this similarity has been cause for at least 1 misdiagnosis and subsequent death. This recently occurred in Australia, a continent on which human Babesia was so-far believed to be non-existent. A 56 year old man had sustained substantial injuries in a car accident and was rushed to the hospital with bone and internal organ injuries. He stayed in recovery for 4 months, but then developed symptoms that mystified his caretakers. He became anemic and experienced a low platelet count and liver dysfunction. As reported by Murdoch University, other symptoms that may have developed were a low red blood cell count, fever, and chills. The man’s symptoms, along with the visible microscopic presence of ring-like parasites in the man’s blood cells led his doctors to believe that he had contracted malaria. They treated for the disease, but unfortunately, they treated the wrong disease. The man passed away only 5 days later. Later testing confirmed that he had been suffering from Piroplasmosis. This took everyone involved by surprise, especially after further investigation revealed that the man’s son had tested negative and that the patient hadn’t left the continent in the previous 40 years (except to travel to New Zealand, another region believed to be free from human Babesia). The man’s dog also tested negative, though we now know that he could not have contracted the parasite from his canine companion.