Background: Epidemiological surveys in Oman have revealed a high prevalence of the co-occurrence of the pathogenic Theileria lestoquardi and the non-pathogenic Theileria ovis among sheep in the Barka region, Oman. Our most recent data illustrated an interaction and reduced mortality risk in animals co-infected with T. lestoquardi and T. ovis, suggesting that the latter confers protection against pathogenicity of T. lestoquardi. The present study extends the above findings and examines disease outcomes; clinical markers, hematological parameters, and parasite density in mixed and single T. lestoquardi infections. Methods: A total of 390 blood samples were collected from 16 sheep pens located in Barka, Oman between July and November 2019. Theileria spp. were detected and quantified using qPCR assay targeting 18S rRNA, and the extent of genetic diversity was estimated by a panel of T. lestoquardi specific micro- and mini-satellites. The association of some disease markers with the presence of Theileria spp. and genetic diversity was tested. Results: Theileria spp. were detected in 75 (19.2%) sheep; of these 65 (86.7%) had mixed infections (T. lestoquardi plus T. ovis), 8 (10.6%) were infected with T. lestoquardi alone, and 2 (2.7%) with only T. ovis. Exotic breeds had a higher risk for Theileria spp. infection. The density (18S rRNA gene copies) of both parasites was higher in single infection against mixed infection, and there was a relatively lower density of T. lestoquardi in mixed infections. However, there was no difference in hematological indices between single T. lestoquardi and mixed infections. High genetic diversity was observed among T. lestoquardi in Barka, with no differences of T. lestoquardi in single and mixed infections. The extent of diversity seen in Barka was higher (He = 0.772) than that reported in Oman in 2019 (He = 0.582), with distinct T. lestoquardi genotypes. Conclusion: The lower density of T. lestoquardi as mixed infection with T. ovis compared to single infection supports the hypothesis that T. ovis confers protection against lethal T. lestoquardi infection. However, there were no differences in disease correlations (clinical markers, hematological parameters, and density of parasites) or the extent of diversity of T. lestoquardi between the two types of infection. The presence of distinct T. lestoquardi genotypes in Barka, compared to that reported earlier in Oman, likely reflects movement of carrier animals and highlights the need for further analysis of the parasite populations to inform novel approaches for controlling malignant ovine theileriosis. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].
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