Veterinarians in the United Kingdom have detected the first cases of the tick-borne disease known as babesiosis in the country. The canine illness, which is caused by a protozoal parasite that typically attacks the host's red blood cells, can easily be spread to other pets.

Public Health England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) are currently investigating the recent outbreak of babesiosis in four dogs in the county of Essex. One of the pets died from the infection while the rest remains seriously ill.

Experts warn that the disease might prove difficult to contain once it spreads to other dogs in the country.

Babesiosis

Babesiosis is an illness caused by single-celled organisms from the species Babesia. When these organisms reach their merozoites or piroplasms stage, they begin to attack the red blood cells of mammals. This causes their host to suffer from bouts of anemia.

Various species of Babesia parasites can be found in different parts of the world. In North America, the majority of babesiosis dog infection occurs in southern regions of the United States. There are also some cases of the disease in other parts of the country, such as in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In the UK, ticks carrying the Babesia parasite were discovered in fields in the township of Harlow, Essex. Signs have now been placed to inform dog walkers and other people not to enter the area.

Transmission Of The Disease

Babesia infection is contracted primarily through the bites of infected ticks, with most of the culprits coming from the Ixodes species.

However, there is also evidence that points to the possibility of transmitting the disease from animal to another through direct contact. This can occur when an infected dog with lesions or scrapes on its mouth bites another dog.

The Babesia parasite can also be transferred by pregnant dogs to their unborn puppies.

Signs And Symptoms Of Babesiosis

While most dogs infected with the Babesia parasite typically show signs of the disease in about two weeks, some only experience mild symptoms. This makes it difficult for veterinarians to properly diagnose the illness immediately.

Symptoms of Babesiosis include the following:

1. Fever
2. Pale gums
3. Enlarged abdomen
4. Weight loss
5. Colored urine
6. Discolored stool
7. Lack of appetite
8. Lack of energy

Diagnosis

Experts advise dog owners to take their dogs to the vet if they suspect that they might be infected with babesiosis. They will have to provide the vet a thorough history of their pet's health, which includes a history of disease symptoms and an account of possible instances where the dog could have contracted the infection.

The vet will then conduct a complete physical exam on the dog, including a urinalysis, a blood count, an electrolyte panel and a blood chemical profile.

Treatment

Once infection has been confirmed, the dog will undergo medication using imidocarb diproprionate, the FDA approved treatment for babesiosis. Atovaquone and azithromycin can also be used to treat infected dogs.

Pets can be treated of their babesiosis without having to stay at the vet, but those with severe cases of infection may need to have blood transfusions or fluid therapy at the hospital.

In some cases, dogs that survive the disease may still be considered sub-clinically infected.

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