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Bovine besnoitiosis in an endemically infected dairy cattle herd in Italy: serological and clinical observations, risk factors, and effects on reproductive and productive performances

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Bovine besnoitiosis (Besnoitia besnoiti) is an emerging parasitic disease of cattle in Europe. This study reports a case of bovine besnoitiosis in a dairy farm housing 217 cattle in Italy. A serological screening was performed on the whole herd using the recommended approach of ELISA and confirmatory Western Blot. Seropositive animals were clinically examined to reveal symptoms and lesions of besnoitiosis. Risk factors and the effects of the parasite infection on reproductive and productive performances were evaluated. Histopathology and molecular analyses on tissues from a slaughtered cow affected by the chronic phase of the disease were carried out. An overall seroprevalence of 23.5%, which increased up to 43.5% considering only cows, was recorded. Clinical examination of 33 of the seropositive cows evidenced the presence of tissue cysts in at least one of the typical localizations (sclera, vulva, or skin) in 25 animals. Statistical analysis did not evidence any significative impact of the parasite infection on herd efficiency; however, a decrease of productive parameters was recorded in cows showing cutaneous cysts. Concerning the chronically affected cow, histopathology revealed B. besnoiti tissue cysts in the skin of the neck, rump, hind legs, eyelid and vulva, in the muzzle, in mucosal membranes of the upper respiratory tract, and in the lungs. Parasite DNA was detected also in masseter muscles, tonsils, mediastinal lymph nodes, liver, cardiac muscle, aorta wall, ovaries, uterus, and vulva. Bovine besnoitiosis continues to spread in the Italian cattle population. Breeders and veterinarians should be aware of this parasitic disease, and control programs should be developed based on surveillance through a diagnostic procedure including both clinical examination and laboratory tests.

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The authors are grateful to the veterinarians who helped in the sample collection and in the clinical examination.

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Correspondence to Luca Villa.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Università degli Studi di Milano (“Organismo Preposto al Benessere degli Animali,” Prot. no. OPBA_34_2017). This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from the owner of the animals and from all individual participants (farmers) included in the study. Informed consent was also obtained from the owner of the animal (cow) for the case study.

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Section Editor: Berit Bangoura

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Villa, L., Gazzonis, A.L., Zanzani, S.A. et al. Bovine besnoitiosis in an endemically infected dairy cattle herd in Italy: serological and clinical observations, risk factors, and effects on reproductive and productive performances. Parasitol Res 118, 3459–3468 (2019).

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