Wild horse populations in south-east Australia have a high prevalence of Strongylus vulgaris and may act as a reservoir of infection for domestic horses

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 2019, 8 pp. 156 - 163
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© 2019 The Authors Australia has over 400,000 wild horses, the largest wild equid population in the world, scattered across a range of different habitats. We hypothesised that wild horse populations unexposed to anthelmintics would have a high prevalence of Strongylus vulgaris infections. Verminous endarteritis and colic due to migrating S. vulgaris larvae is now absent or unreported in domestic horses in Australia, yet wild horses may pose a risk for its re-emergence. A total of 289 faecal egg counts (FECs) were performed across six remote wild horse populations in south-east Australia, of varying densities, herd sizes and habitats. Total strongyle egg counts ranged from 50 to 3740 eggs per gram (EPG, mean 1443) and 89% (257/289) of faecal samples had > 500 EPG, classifying them as ‘high level shedders’. There were significant differences in mean total strongyle FECs between different locations, habitats and population densities. Occurrence of S. vulgaris was not predictable based on FECs of total strongyle eggs or small (<90 μm) strongyle eggs. A high prevalence of S. vulgaris DNA in faecal samples was demonstrated across all six populations, with an overall predicted prevalence of 96.7%. This finding is important, because of the ample opportunity for transmission to domestic horses. The high prevalence of S. vulgaris suggests vigilance is required when adopting wild horses, or when domestic horses graze in environments inhabited by wild horses. Appropriate veterinary advise is required to minimize disease risk due to S. vulgaris. Monitoring horses for S. vulgaris using larval culture or qPCR remains prudent. Gastrointestinal parasites in wild horse populations may also serve as parasite refugia, thus contributing to integrated parasite management when facing emerging anthelmintic resistance.
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