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Will the guilty tick please stand up?

Usually, people don't think about horses getting sick. That may be why you might sometimes hear your parents say that somebody is "as healthy as a horse."

But horses really can get sick. Agricultural Research Service scientists have helped find out how a horse on a Texas ranch got sick with a disease called equine piroplasmosis (pronounced "E-kwine PEER-oh-plaz-MOH-sis"). Horses that get this disease are infected with a microbe called Theileria equi, which lives inside some ticks.

In Texas, two culprits have usually been blamed for spreading the disease: the American dog tick and the southern cattle tick. But now it turns out there's another guilty party: the cayenne tick.

In October 2009, a mare on a Texas ranch starting having a bad appetite and losing weight, and it turned out that she had equine piroplasmosis.

At first, everyone assumed the usual suspects were to blame. But the ARS scientists discovered that the cayenne tick is able to spread this disease to horses, just like the other two ticks.

The scientists also found more than 290 horses on the Texas ranch had equine piroplasmosis.

But there's good news for these horses and their owners. The scientists are treating the horses with a drug called imidocarb dipropionate. That drug is used by veterinarians to treat animals infected with diseases carried by ticks.

And, there's a bonus--the drug not only helps the horses get better, but it also stops them from passing the disease on to other horses.

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