Piroplasmosis: Florida Restricts Texas Horses

Florida has enacted import restrictions on horses from Texas due to the ongoing investigation into equine piroplasmosis, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson announced.

Nearly 300 Texas horses have tested positive for Theileria equi, one of two organisms responsible for causing equine piroplasmosis.

Florida now requires horses from Texas to have blood tests to check for Theileria equi within thirty days of entry into Florida, have a health certificate, and be checked for ticks that carry equine piroplasmosis. They must also be sprayed with a pesticide no more than two weeks before their arrival in Florida.

Equine piroplasmosis is considered a foreign animal disease, not endemic to the United States. It is a blood-borne parasitic disease primarily transmitted between horses by ticks or contaminated needles. It is not directly contagious from one horse to another. Ticks are the natural method of transmission of the equine piroplasmosis organisms, and the tick species known to be efficient at transmitting equine piroplasmosis is not believed to be in Florida.

Acutely affected horses can have depression, fever, anemia, jaundiced (yellow) mucous membranes and can die from the disease. In its milder form, EP can also cause horses to have roughened hair coats, constipation, colic, generalized weakness, and lack of appetite. Some horses become chronic carriers of the disease, showing few clinical signs but with the ability to transmit the disease to other horses via ticks. Treatment of infected horses has not been shown to be effective in eliminating the organism (Theileria equi), and infected horses must remain under quarantine.

The establishment of equine piroplasmosis and associated vector ticks would seriously threaten the horses and equine industry of Florida, which produces goods and services of more than $3 billion per year.

"We are being very proactive in testing horses that came in contact with positive horses that were imported from Texas over the past few years since we are not sure how long the problem has existed in Texas," Bronson said. "This is a serious disease, and we must take all precautions necessary to prevent the spread of this disease as well as to prevent the introduction of any ticks that are carriers of the disease."

Ten horses that were exposed to equine piroplasmosis in Texas and traveled into Florida before the outbreak was discovered have been located, tested, and quarantined. Five of those horses have tested positive for the organism.

The State Veterinarian's Office is working with the owners to test all horses exposed in Florida and to minimize the risk to other horses in the state. So far no horses that were exposed to horses imported from Texas have tested positive.

Because some states have placed import restrictions on all states with positive horses, the Florida State Veterinarian's Office recommends that anyone traveling out of state with their horse to call the state of destination to ensure there are no additional requirements enacted associated with this outbreak.

For more information about the import restrictions and the disease, visit the department's Division of Animal Industry Web page.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.