Did You Know That Bovine Babesiosis Was the First Disease Definitively Shown to Be Transmitted By an Arthropod?

By John W. Harvey

Did you know that bovine babesiosis (Texas cattle fever) was the first disease definitively shown to be transmitted by an arthropod? The disease was especially severe after the Civil War when Texas cattle were moved north to stockyards and came in contact with cattle raised in northern states. In some cases, 90% of affected local herds were destroyed by the disease that caused severe hemolytic anemia with icterus and hemoglobinuria. In 1893, physician Theobald Smith and veterinarian Fred Kilbourne, working in the newly created Bureau of Animal Industry, demonstrated the transmission of the protozoa named Pirosoma bigemina (now classified as Babesia bigemina) between cattle by Boophilus microplus ticks. In endemic areas, calves infected with Babesia generally develop mild disease and become carriers, but the infection of older cattle can result in severe disease, explaining the outbreak of disease in northern cattle exposed to subclinical Texas cattle carrying ticks. The disease was largely eliminated in Texas cattle by controlling the one-host ticks by dipping (immersion) in an acaricide. The first tick-transmitted case of human babesiosis (Babesia divergens) was reported in Croatia in 1957.

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Boophilus microplus
Babesia bigemina in cattle blood (authors collection)