Background: The gastrointestinal parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus is a pathogenic organism resistant to several anthelmintics. This study assessed the efficacy of a medicinal herbal mixture (Herbmix) and organic zinc, as an essential trace element for the proper functioning of both unspecific and specific immune defensive mechanisms, against experimental infections with H. contortus in lambs. All lambs were infected orally with approximately 5000 third-stage larvae of a strain of H. contortus susceptible to anthelmintics (MHco1). Twenty-four female lambs 3-4 months of age were divided into four groups: unsupplemented animals (control), animals supplemented with Herbmix (Hmix), animals supplemented with organic zinc (Zn) and animals supplemented with Herbmix and organic zinc (Hmix+Zn). Eggs per gram (EPG) of faeces were quantified 20, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 62 and 70 d post-infection and mean abomasal worm counts were assessed 70 d post-infection. Samples of blood were collected from each animal 7, 35, 49 and 70 d post-infection.
Results: Quantitative analyses of the bioactive compounds in Herbmix identified three main groups: flavonoids (9964.7 μg/g), diterpenes (4886.1 μg/g) and phenolic acids (3549.2 μg/g). Egg counts in the lambs treated with Hmix, Zn and Hmix+Zn decreased after 49 d. The EPGs in the Zn and Hmix+Zn groups were significantly lower on day 56 (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01, respectively), and the EPGs and mean worm counts were significantly lower on day 70 in all supplemented groups (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01). Hemograms of complete red blood cells of each animal identified clinical signs of haemonchosis after day 35. Serum calprotectin concentrations and IgA levels were significantly affected by treatment. The treatment influenced serum malondialdehyde concentrations (P < 0.05) and sulfhydryl groups (P < 0.01) of antioxidant status. The mineral status was unaltered in all lambs.
Conclusion: A direct anthelmintic impact on the viability of nematodes was not fully demonstrated, but the treatments with herbal nutraceuticals and zinc likely indirectly contributed to the increase in the resistance of the lambs to nematode infection.
Keywords: Anthelmintic activity; Egg counts; Gastrointestinal nematode; Haemonchus contortus; Herbal bioactive compounds; Mineral status; Organic zinc; Sheep.