Scientists have detected an exotic tick-borne parasite within sheep in the North of Scotland, according to a new study.

Scotland map/CIA

The research, by scientists at the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, was published today in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). The study reports that this is the first time this organism, called Babesia venatorum (B. venatorum), has been identified in animals in the UK, and the first time it has been found in sheep anywhere in the world.

The identification of this parasite in the UK raises concerns for European public health and farming policy, according to the study’s authors. Although some evidence suggests this parasite may be more virulent than the species of Babesia usually found in the UK, the risk of people contracting this infection is believed to be low.

The parasite causes babesiosis, an economically important tick-transmitted animal disease, which is recognised as an emerging infection in humans. In the last two decades, the parasite has been recorded extensively in the Far East (China) and also in Europe with two confirmed human infections in Italy. Fortunately, babesiosis is treatable in most cases, although this depends on rapid and accurate diagnosis.

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