Molecular survey of Babesia parasites in Kenya: first detailed report on occurrence of Babesia bovis in cattle

Tick research in ILRI's biotechnology labs in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/David White).

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Among protozoan parasites in the genus Babesia, Babesia bigemina is endemic and widespread in the East African region while the status of the more pathogenic Babesia bovis remains unclear despite the presence of the tick vector, Rhipicephalus microplus, which transmits both species.

Recent studies have confirmed the occurrence of R. microplus in coastal Kenya, and although B. bovis DNA has previously been detected in cattle blood in Kenya, no surveillance has been done to establish its prevalence.

This study therefore investigated the occurrence of B. bovis in cattle in Kwale County, Kenya, where R. microplus is present in large numbers.

A total of 131 animals (25.8%) were found to have bovine babesiosis based on real-time PCR. A total of 61 animals (12.1%) were found to be infected with B. bovis parasites only, while 44 animals (8.7%) had B. bigemina only. Babesia bovis and B. bigemina infections were detected in the three Kwale sub-counties.

The findings can be used for routine B. bovis surveillance to monitor the spread and establishment of the pathogen in other African countries where B. bigemina is endemic. Moreover, the findings highlight the threat of fatal babesiosis caused by B. bovis, whose endemic status is yet to be established.

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