Halicephalobus gingivalis is a small saprophytic rhabditid nematode, represented only by females with a typical rhabditoid oesophagus and one egg in the uterus, capable of infecting vertebrates. This opportunistic parasite present in the soil, manure and decaying humus, is thought to penetrate through previous injuries to the mouth, eyes and skin of horses and migrate to various organs. The brain is one such organ, where the females lay their eggs, leading to malacia and causing a sudden onset of neurological signs, such as anorexia, ataxia, urinary incontinence, blindness, decreased menace and tonal reflexes, tremors and aggressiveness. The disease is invariably fatal whenever brain lesions are present, and the diagnosis usually achieved only post-mortem. The present work aims to describe the first case of infection by H. gingivalis ever reported in Portugal. An 8-year old warmblood horse presented with an 8-day history of progressive blindness involving the left eye, initially with normal pupillary reflexes, advancing to bilateral blindness and increasing deterioration in clinical condition. After euthanasia, the animal was submitted for necropsy. Organ samples were collected and fixed in 10% neutral buffered formalin for routine histopathology. A large mass was found in the left kidney corresponding to fibrous tissue heavily infiltrated with inflammatory cells and numerous nematodes. In the brain, multiple, bilateral and asymmetrical foci of malacia containing several rhabditoid nematodes, larvae and zygotes, and high numbers of inflammatory cells were found. The nematodes were identified as H. gingivalis. The clinical history, necropsy and histological findings presented constitute a typical case of H. gingivalis infection in a horse, never previously described in Portugal to the authors' best knowledge. Humans can be infected by contact with contaminated manure, which makes this nematode a public health concern, especially for people living and/or working in close proximity to horses.
Provisional acceptance date added to apply exception.