Epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens in the semi-arid and the arid agro-ecological zones of Punjab province, Pakistan.
Tick-borne diseases (TBDs) have a large impact on animal health and the livelihood of livestock owners, particularly in developing countries. Although climatic and ecological conditions in Pakistan may favour the transmission of tick-borne pathogens (TBPs), only a few systematic studies have been carried out on TBPs and the diseases that they cause in this country. To improve our understanding of the distribution of TBPs, 3,807 ticks were collected from ruminants (n=369) on 108 livestock farms (semi-arid zone=36, arid zone=72) in Punjab Province. After morphological identification ticks were pooled into 405 pools (Hyalomma anatolicum=300, Rhipicephalus microplus=89, Hyalomma dromedarii=9, Rhipicephalus turanicus=7) based on their species, locality of collection, and the host. DNA from each pool was screened by a Reverse Line Blot (RLB) hybridization assay for the presence of Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, Rickettsia, Babesia, and Theileria species. DNA from at least one TBP was found in 142 (35.1%) pools. Among the positive pools, 91 (64.1%) had a mixed infection with two or more TBPs, whereas 51 (35.9%) pools were infected with a single TBP. The detected pathogens not only included species that were known to be endemic in Pakistan, such as Theileria annulata (6.7%), Theileria orientalis (3.5%), Anaplasma marginale (5.7%), Anaplasma centrale (2.7%), Anaplasma ovis (1.5%), Babesia bigemina (0.7%), and Babesia bovis (0.2%), but also several TBPs that had not been reported to occur in Pakistan before. This included Ehrlichia minasensis (3.2%), an Anaplasma platys-like organism (1.2%), Babesia occultans (0.2%), and Rickettsia massiliae (0.2%), as well as two previously uncharacterized species: Ehrlichia sp. Multan (18.0%) and Anaplasma sp. (BL099-6) (2.22%). The pathogenicity of these novel species remains to be examined. This study shows that a much broader spectrum of TBPs is present in Pakistan than previously thought, including several zoonotic pathogens.