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Clinical Progression of Theileria haneyi in Splenectomized Horses Reveals Decreased Virulence Compared to Theileria equi

Kelly P. Sears, Donald P. Knowles, Lindsay M. Fry
Pathogens 2022 v.11 no.2 pp. -
Theileria equi, carrier state, genomics, hemoparasites, horses, imidocarb, mixed infection, mortality, virulence
The global importance of the hemoparasite Theileria haneyi to equine health was recently shown by its resistance to imidocarb dipropionate (ID) and its interference with T. equi clearance by ID in some co-infected horses. Genetic characterization of T. haneyi revealed marked genomic reduction compared to T. equi, and initial experiments demonstrated reduced clinical severity in spleen-intact horses. Furthermore, in early experiments, splenectomized horses survived T. haneyi infection and progressed to an asymptomatic carrier state, in stark contrast to the high fatality rate of T. equi in splenectomized horses. Thus, we hypothesized that T. haneyi is less virulent than T. equi. To objectively assess virulence, clinical data from nine splenectomized, T. haneyi-infected horses were evaluated and compared to published data on T. equi-infected, splenectomized horses. Seven of eight splenectomized, T. haneyi-infected horses survived. Further, in six horses co-infected with T. equi and T. haneyi, only horses cleared of T. equi by ID survived splenectomy and became asymptomatic carriers. The reduced virulence of T. haneyi in splenectomized horses instructs why T. haneyi was, until recently, undetected. This naturally occurring comparative reduction in virulence in a natural host provides a foundation for defining virulence mechanisms of theileriosis and Apicomplexa in general.