Ticks (Babesia)

Babesiasis (babesia) is a tick-born, parasitic disease of mammals caused by protozoa of the genus Babesia. The disease is characterized by high fever, anemia and reddened urine (hemoglobinuria). Many discussions of the disease also mention Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Tick Fever, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, as being similar to Babesiasis. Although different organisms cause each of these diseases, the common thread that connects them is that they are all pathogens that are spread by ticks. For this reason, they may be referred to as “Tick Fevers.”

Specific organisms have been determined to infect specific mammals. For instance, Babesia felis is known to infect cats, and Babesia odocoilei is found in white-tail deer. However, the organisms are not all spread by the same tick. Consequently, the disease present in a particular location will depend on the variety of tick found in that area.

In most cases, these diseases can be spread only through ticks, and not from mammal to mammal. To complicate the situation, some ticks can carry several different types of organisms simultaneously so that once infected, the animal may have two different diseases at the same time.

Often cervids with parasites may not be properly diagnosed. For this reason, it is important for producers to determine what kind of ticks are present in their areas, and which specific organisms may be transmitted to their animals by these ticks.

Entomologists from local universities, or from state departments of agriculture, can probably supply this information. These same people can probably identify the seasons during which the ticks are most likely to spread the disease.

Not all diseases can be transmitted by ticks in all stages of development. Knowing the time of the year that the tick is most likely to transmit the disease will be helpful in preventing and diagnosing the disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include high fever (104-107), loss of appetite, dehydration, lethargy, anemia, and dark urine. A blood test is required to be certain, but if any of the tick-born parasites are suspected, time is of the essence. These parasites multiply quickly, attack, and destroy blood cells by toxins or mechanically. Serious kidney damage may occur as the destroyed cells are filtered from the blood. If any of these parasites are suspected, a simple stained blood smear can be examined in the vet’s office. It should be done as soon as symptoms appear.

Treatment

Imizol from Schering-Plough is labeled only for use in dogs, but has been effective in treating babesiasis and other tick-born parasites in cervids. Please consult with your vet for dosages and treatment procedures.

While Imizol will usually kill the parasite, the producer may have to treat other problems such as anemia and kidney failure. As soon as treatment is started for parasites, begin forcing fluids by mouth or stomach tube to keep flushing the kidneys. Acute kidney failure is a serious side effect that must be addressed, but it is curable in most instances. Recovery time will vary from a few days to a month or more, depending on the age of the animal, and how far the disease has progressed before treatment was started.

Prevention

Prevention can ideally be achieved by keeping ticks off your animals. There are numerous products on the market that can be applied on or around your cervids. Keeping grass mowed also helps. Small rodents, such as mice and voles, carry ticks that can drop off in the pens, then reattach to the animals. Keeping rodents out of your pastures will reduce risks. Maintaining an aggressive worming program with Ivomec and other similar products is also helpful.

Producers should be aware of the parasites that ticks carry. Be sure your vet is aware of the presence of this problem. If it is not readily available locally, keep a good supply of Imizol on hand.

Source: Brian Adelhardt, reprinted from the ROBA. Review, Jan-Feb. 2002.