Serological survey of Neospora spp. and Besnoitia spp. in horses in Portugal
Equine neosporosis is regarded to be caused either by Neospora hughesi or Neospora caninum and equine besnoitiosis is caused by Besnoitia bennetti, both of which are apicomplexan parasites. N. caninum is the only known Neospora species in Europe, where equine N. caninum infections have been reported as being associated to abortion and reproductive failure. N. hughesi is prevalent in North America and was predominantly linked to neurological disorders. B. bennetti is considered an emergent disease in donkeys in North America and evidence for B. bennetti infection was recently reported in Europe. Though N. caninum and Besnoitia besnoiti are prevalent in cattle in Portugal, little is known about neosporosis in horses and, to the best of our knowledge, no information was hitherto available for Besnoitia spp. The aim of this study was thus to carry out a serological survey to determine the seroprevalence of these parasites in naturally exposed horses in Portugal. A total of 385 animals were screened by the Indirect Fluorescent Antibody Test at the cut-off value 1:50 and positive results were confirmed by Western blot. Exposure to Neospora spp. and Besnoitia spp. was confirmed in 9.1% (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 6.6–12.4%) and 0.3% (95% CI: 0.0–1.5%) of horses, respectively. Considering the putative economic and animal health impact of neosporosis in horses and the consequences of a possible spread of equine besnoitiosis in Europe and elsewhere, more comprehensive studies are needed to characterize the species detected in serological surveys, evaluate the geographical distribution and assess possible risk factors that could favor transmission.