Background: Babesia spp. are tick-borne protozoan hemoparasites and the second most common blood-borne parasites of mammals, in particular domestic animals. We used the Clustal Multiple Alignment program and 18S rRNA gene sequences of 22 Babesia species from GenBank to develop a PCR that could detect a wide variety of Babesia spp. in a single reaction. The pan-Babesia FRET-qPCR we developed reliably detected B. gibsoni, B. canis, B. vogeli, B. microti, B. bovis, and B. divergens under controlled conditions but did not react with closely related species, mainly Hepatozoon americanum, Theileria equi, and Toxoplasma gondii.
Results: When we tested the pan-Babesia FRET-qPCR on DNA of whole blood from 752 cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses from five Caribbean islands, we detected Babesia spp. expected to be present in the animals, mainly B. bovis and B. bigemina in cattle and B. caballi in horses and donkeys. Further, we found that animals were not uncommonly infected with species of Babesia usually associated with other hosts, mainly B. vogeli and B. gibsoni in cattle, sheep and goats, B. rossi in goats, and B. caballi in goats and sheep. Finally, the pan-Babesia FRET-qPCR enabled us to identify unknown species of Babesia in cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys.
Conclusions: Overall, 70 % (525/752) of the animals we tested were positive confirming earlier limited studies that infections with Babesia spp. are common in livestock in the Caribbean.