Cryptosporidium infection was molecularly investigated in mares and in their neonatal foals for which the occurrence of foal heat diarrhoea was also assessed. Thirty-seven mare/foal pairs were included in the study. All foals were born in the same stud farm during 2006-2008 breeding seasons. Two faecal samples, one prior to and one after delivery were collected from each mare, whereas three faecal samples were taken from each foal, i.e. at 8, 10 and 12 days of age. All samples (74 from mares and 111 from foals) were divided into two aliquots, one of which was examined for the presence of Cryptosporidium by a commercially available microplate ELISA kit, while the second aliquot of all ELISA-positive samples was molecularly examined. Nine out of 37 examined foals presented foal heat diarrhoea and one of them scored positive for Cryptosporidium, together with its mare. More specifically, four samples belonging to the same mare/foal pair resulted positive for Cryptosporidium upon both ELISA and PCR. The sequence analysis of the COWP gene showed the occurrence of the zoonotic species Cryptosporidium parvum. The possibility that foal heat diarrhoea-like episodes may be due to neonatal cryptosporidiosis and their relevance for the health of horses and of humans handling diarrhoeic neonatal foals and their mares are discussed.
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