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Agricultural Review

NCDA&CS warns horse owners about disease

North Carolina has joined a growing list of states with cases of equine piroplasmosis, an animal disease the U.S. was free of for 20 years, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler recently announced.

Tests of blood samples submitted to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the presence of EP in 11 horses in four locations. North Carolina joins 19 other states that have identified cases of the disease in the past two years.

State veterinary authorities immediately quarantined the premises where the horses resided. The quarantine means that no horses can be moved from these locations.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is conducting an investigation to determine the source of the disease and whether it has spread beyond the locations where the infected animals were housed.

“Horse owners and others in the equine industry in North Carolina should monitor their horses carefully and contact their veterinarian if they suspect this disease,” Troxler said. “Because the U.S. has been free of this disease for two decades, by law suspected cases must be reported to the State Veterinarian’s Office.”

With the exception of the quarantined premises, there are no EP-related movement restrictions on horses within North Carolina or between North Carolina and other states. 

State Veterinarian David Marshall has implemented regulations under which horses from states known to contain EP-infected horses could be imported to North Carolina. The regulations are designed to minimize the possibility of more infected horses entering the state.


Equine piroplasmosis is a blood-borne parasitic disease primarily transmitted to horses by ticks or contaminated needles. The disease was eradicated from the United States in 1988. North Carolina is not considered to have the tick species believed to transmit EP.

This disease is not directly contagious from one horse to another but requires direct blood transfer. Human infection with equine piroplasmosis is very rare.

Horses with acute cases of EP can have depression, fever, anemia, jaundiced mucous membranes and low platelet counts. EP can also cause horses to have roughened hair coats, constipation and colic. In its milder form, the disease causes horses to appear weak and show lack of appetite. Some horses become chronic carriers of EP and show no clinical signs.


Monitor your horse for the presence of ticks. Use commercially available topical products labeled for ticks if your horse is in an area where tick infestation is a problem. Most of these products are synthetic pyrethrins. Include an avermectin product in your de-worming program to provide systemic treatment for ticks. Ask your veterinarian if you are unsure.

If you find large numbers of ticks or suspect piroplasmosis, please contact your veterinarian.

Do not share needles between animals in the administration of any medication or vaccinat-ions. EP and other diseases can be spread by the introduction of blood cells from an infected animal into an uninfected animal during routine administration of medications by injection.

Continue your normal equine activities.

NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Andrea Ashby, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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