Spread of parasites transported with their hosts: case study of two species of cattle tick

N Barré, G Uilenberg
Revue Scientifique et Technique 2010, 29 (1): 149-60, 135-47
Like all parasites, ticks can be spread easily along with their hosts. Ticks are obligate parasites of vertebrates, to which they attach themselves for varying periods of time, and are well-adapted to this mode of transport. Once the transport stage is complete and they have detached at destination, they are also able to wait several months for the arrival of a new host on which they will continue their life cycle. This leads to the establishment of a secondary tick population. Two tropical cattle tick species, Rhipicephalus microplus and Amblyomma variegatum, have perfected this strategy of colonisation and occupation of favourable zones. Rhipicephalus microplus, which originated from South and Southeast Asia, is highly specific for ungulates, and thanks to cattle movements it has spread throughout the tropical belt, apart from the remotest areas. Amblyomma variegatum, which originated in Africa, was transported to Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, as well as to the West Indies, during the time of the Atlantic triangular trade. These two ticks are vectors of particularly serious cattle diseases: babesiosis and anaplasmosis in the case of R. microplus, and heartwater (cowdriosis) in the case of A. variegatum. Anticipated climate changes are likely to modify the potential geographical range of these two parasite species and numerous others. Even now there are still many areas of the Americas, Asia and Oceania into which A. variegatum has not yet spread, but which it would find favourable. It could be spread not only by the transport of cattle, but also by the migration of some of its other hosts, such as birds. Surveillance--and know-how--is needed to identify these parasites when they first appear and to rapidly contain new outbreaks. Efforts should be made to raise the awareness of livestock professionals about the risks of transporting cattle. Regulations should be implemented and precautions taken to avoid such artificial expansion of the range of ticks and the diseases they transmit.

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