Background: Equine besnoitiosis, caused by Besnoitia bennetti, and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), caused by Sarcocystis neurona and Neospora hughesi are relevant equine diseases in the Americas that have been scarcely studied in Europe. Thus, a serosurvey of these cystogenic coccidia was carried out in Southern Spain. A cross-sectional study was performed and serum samples from horses (n = 553), donkeys (n = 85) and mules (n = 83) were included. An in-house enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was employed to identify a Besnoitia spp. infection and positive results were confirmed by an a posteriori western blot. For Neospora spp. and Sarcocystis spp., infections were detected using in-house ELISAs based on the parasite surface antigens N. hughesi rNhSAG1 and S. neurona rSnSAG2/3/4. Risk factors associated with these protozoan infections were also investigated.

Results: Antibodies against Besnoitia spp., Neospora spp. and Sarcocystis spp. infections were detected in 51 (7.1%), 46 (6.4%) and 20 (2.8%) of 721 equids, respectively. The principal risk factors associated with a higher seroprevalence of Besnoitia spp. were the host species (mule or donkey), the absence of shelter and the absence of a rodent control programme. The presence of rodents was the only risk factor for Neospora spp. infection.

Conclusions: This study was the first extensive serosurvey of Besnoitia spp. infection in European equids accomplished by two complementary tests and gives evidence of the presence of specific antibodies in these populations. However, the origin of the infection is still unclear. Further parasite detection and molecular genotyping are needed to identify the causative Besnoitia and Neospora species. Finally, cross-reactions with antibodies directed against other species of Sarcocystis might explain the positive reactions against the S. neurona antigens.

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Published in BMC Veterinary Research, v. 13, 128, p. 1-9.

© The Author(s). 2017

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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This study was supported by several research projects (AGL 2010–20,561, CYTED Thematic Network 113RT0469 Protozoovac and by PLATESA S20137ABI-2906). Daniel Gutiérrez Expósito has been financially supported by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (grant no. BES-2011-043753).

Related Content

The datasets analysed in the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Additional file 1: Questionnaire survey developed for use in this study.

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Additional file 2: Detection of specific anti-Neospora spp. antibodies by a western blot test validated for bovine neosporosis [47].