Equine trypanosomosis: enigmas and diagnostic challenges
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Equine trypanosomosis is a complex of infectious diseases called dourine, nagana and surra. It is caused by several species of the genus Trypanosoma that are transmitted cyclically by tsetse flies, mechanically by other haematophagous flies, or sexually. Trypanosoma congolense (subgenus Nannomonas) and T. vivax (subgenus Dutonella) are genetically and morphologically distinct from T. brucei, T. equiperdum and T. evansi (subgenus Trypanozoon). It remains controversial whether the three latter taxa should be considered distinct species. Recent outbreaks of surra and dourine in Europe illustrate the risk and consequences of importation of equine trypanosomosis with infected animals into non-endemic countries. Knowledge on the epidemiological situation is fragmentary since many endemic countries do not report the diseases to the World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE. Other major obstacles to the control of equine trypanosomosis are the lack of vaccines, the inability of drugs to cure the neurological stage of the disease, the inconsistent case definition and the limitations of current diagnostics. Especially in view of the ever-increasing movement of horses around the globe, there is not only the obvious need for reliable curative and prophylactic drugs but also for accurate diagnostic tests and algorithms. Unfortunately, clinical signs are not pathognomonic, parasitological tests are not sufficiently sensitive, serological tests miss sensitivity or specificity, and molecular tests cannot distinguish the taxa within the Trypanozoon subgenus. To address the limitations of the current diagnostics for equine trypanosomosis, we recommend studies into improved molecular and serological tests with the highest possible sensitivity and specificity. We realise that this is an ambitious goal, but it is dictated by needs at the point of care. However, depending on available treatment options, it may not always be necessary to identify which trypanosome taxon is responsible for a given infection.