Transplacental transmission of Theileria orientalis occurs at a low rate in field-affected cattle: Infection in utero does not appear to be a major cause of abortion

Emma Swilks, Shayne A. Fell, Jade F. Hammer, Narelle Sales, Gaye L. Krebs, Cheryl Jenkins

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Background: Bovine theileriosis, caused by the haemoprotozoan Theileria orientalis, is an emerging disease in East Asia and Australasia. Previous studies have demonstrated transplacental transmission of various Theileria spp. but molecular confirmation of transplacental transmission of T. orientalis has never been confirmed in the field. In this study, cow-calf (< 48 h old) pairs were sampled across 3 herds; opportunistic samples from aborted foetuses or stillborn calves were also examined. Molecular (multiplex qPCR) and serological (ELISA) methods were used to determine infection prevalence and the presence of anti-Theileria antibodies in each herd. In addition, pregnant heifers and foetal calves were sampled at abattoir and tested for the presence of T. orientalis by qPCR. Results: The qPCR results indicated that, even though there was a high prevalence of T. orientalis infection in cows, the rate of transplacental transmission to their calves was low, with only one newborn calf from one herd and one foetus from the abattoir testing positive for T. orientalis DNA. Five aborted foetuses and stillborn calves, 3 of which were derived from a herd experiencing a high number of clinical theileriosis cases at the time of sampling, all tested negative for T. orientalis by qPCR. This suggests that in utero infection of calves with T. orientalis may not be a major driver of abortions during theileriosis outbreaks. Temporal monitoring of 20 calves born to T. orientalis-positive mothers indicated that T. orientalis was detectable in most calves between 10 and 27 days post-partum, consistent with prior field studies on adult cattle introduced to Theileria-affected herds. There was a positive correlation between the ELISA ratio of newborn calves and their mothers within 48 h of calving; however, maternal antibodies were only detectable in some calves and only for 4-4.5 weeks post-partum. All calves displayed high parasite loads peaking at 4-8 weeks post-partum, with only some calves subsequently mounting a detectable adaptive antibody response. Conclusions: These findings indicate transplacental transmission of T. orientalis appears to play only a minor role in persistence of T. orientalis infection in the field; however calves are highly susceptible to developing high level T. orientalis infections at 4-8 weeks of age regardless of whether maternal antibodies are present post-partum.

Original languageEnglish
Article number227
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 08 May 2017


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