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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular diagnosis and phylogenetic analysis of Babesia bigemina and Babesia bovis hemoparasites from cattle in South Africa

Moses Sibusiso Mtshali12* and Phillip Senzo Mtshali1

Author Affiliations

1 Research and Scientific Services Department, Veterinary Parasitology Unit, National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria 0001, South Africa

2 Department of Zoology and Entomology, Parasitology Research Program, University of the Free State, Qwaqwa Campus, Phuthaditjhaba 9866, South Africa

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:154  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-154

Published: 8 August 2013



Babesia parasites, mainly Babesia bovis and B. bigemina, are tick-borne hemoparasites inducing bovine babesiosis in cattle globally. The clinical signs of the disease include, among others, anemia, fever and hemoglobinuria. Babesiosis is known to occur in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. In this study, we aim to provide information about the occurrence and phylogenetic relationship of B. bigemina and B. bovis species in cattle from different locations in nine provinces of South Africa.

A total of 430 blood samples were randomly collected from apparently healthy cattle. These samples were genetically tested for Babesia parasitic infections using nested PCR assays with species-specific primers.


Nested PCR assays with Group I primer sets revealed that the overall prevalence of B. bigemina and B. bovis in all bovine samples tested was 64.7% (95% CI = 60.0-69.0) and 35.1% (95% CI = 30.6-39.8), respectively. Only 117/430 (27.2%) animals had a mixed infection. The highest prevalence of 87.5% (95% CI = 77.2-93.5) for B. bigemina was recorded in the Free State province collection sites (Ficksburg, Philippolis and Botshabelo), while North West collection sites had the highest number of animals infected with B. bovis (65.5%; 95% CI = 52.7-76.4). Phylograms were inferred based on B. bigemina-specific gp45 and B. bovis-specific rap-1 nucleotide sequences obtained with Group II nested PCR primers. Phylogenetic analysis of gp45 sequences revealed significant differences in the genotypes of B. bigemina isolates investigated, including those of strains published in GenBank. On the other hand, a phylogeny based on B. bovis rap-1 sequences indicated a similar trend of clustering among the sequences of B. bovis isolates investigated in this study.


This study demonstrates the occurrence of Babesia parasites in cattle from different provinces of South Africa. It was also noted that the situation of Babesia parasitic infection in cattle from certain areas within the surveyed provinces had either reached endemic stability or was progressing towards stability.

Cattle; Babesia bigemina; Babesia bovis; South Africa; Nested PCR; Phylogeny