Haemonchus contortus Infections in Alpacas and Sheep
The blood feeding nematode Haemonchus contortus infects the abomasum of small ruminants and compartment three (C-3) of camelids. Heavy infections may cause severe anemia and death. Alpacas were first introduced into the U.S. in the 1980s. Although not true ruminants, alpacas may become infected with H. contortus and develop the same clinical signs as sheep and goats. Even though alpacas may become infected with the parasite, prior research by Hill et al. (1993) and Green et al. (1996) indicates alpacas may be more resistant to parasitic infection because they found lower numbers of eggs in the feces of alpacas compared to small ruminants. For our research, we hypothesized that given the same exposure to experimental infection, alpacas would be less susceptible than sheep to H. contortus. Experiment 1 was conducted with adult male alpacas (23) and sheep (12) housed in pens to prevent additional exposure to H. contortus. All animals were dewormed orally with a cocktail of fenbendazole, levamisole, and ivermectin. Haemonchus contortus infective larvae were administered orally to alpacas and rams in the following groups:1) 20,000 larvae as a single dose (bolus, n=6 both alpacas and sheep), 2) 20,000 larvae in daily doses of 4,000 larvae for 5 days (trickle, n=5 for alpacas, n=6 for sheep). Two additional groups of alpacas (n=6 each) received either 50,000 larvae as a bolus infection, or in daily doses of 10,000 larvae for 5 days (trickle). Fecal egg counts (FEC) were determined every 2 days from 14 to 42 days post infection (PI) and then at 5 day intervals until day 62 PI. Packed cell volume (PCV), FAMACHA scores, weight, and body condition scores were evaluated weekly. In general, mean FEC were lower in alpacas than sheep (p<0.01), and mean alpaca PCV was affected less by infection than sheep PCV. Experiment 1 results are consistent with our hypothesis that alpacas are less susceptible to H. contortus infection than sheep; however we were unable to determine whether alpaca FEC reflected fewer adult worms or only reduced H. contortus egg production compared to sheep. Experiment 2 was conducted with 16 alpacas and 12 rams and all animals were orally dewormed as in Experiment 1. Haemonchus contortus infective larvae were administered orally to alpacas in the following groups: 1) 20,000 larvae as a single dose (bolus, n=8), and 2) 20,000 larvae in daily doses of 4,000 larvae for 5 days (trickle, n=8). Ram groups (n=6 each) were the same as the alpaca groups. Fecal egg counts were determined at 5 day intervals from days 14 to 49 PI for bolus infected animals and to day 54 PI for trickle infected animals. FAMACHA scores were evaluated weekly. Packed cell volume was evaluated at the beginning and end of the study. All animals were euthanized 49 days after the last infection day. At euthanasia, abomasa and C-3 were harvested for determination of total worm burden and the pH was determined for each sheep rumen and abomasum and each alpaca C-1 and C-3. Mean FEC and total worm burden were significantly lower in alpacas than sheep (p<0.0001 for both FEC and total worm burden). Rumen pH in sheep was higher than C-1 pH in alpacas, but abomasal pH in sheep was significantly lower than C-3 pH in alpacas. Bolus infected sheep had lower FAMACHA scores than the other groups, and PCV was lower on the last day of sampling than the first day of sampling in all groups. The results of Experiment 2 also support our hypothesis that alpacas are less susceptible to H. contortus infection than sheep. However, it is unclear whether the differences are the result of physiological stomach differences between host species or whether other factors, such as immunity or parasite strain are important.