Liver fluke vigilance
Liver Fluke warning – Sheep and cattle farmers are being warned by The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control of Cattle Parasites Sustainably (COWS) groups to be vigilant about liver fluke.
Sheep and cattle farmers shouldn’t be complacent about liver fluke or assume that due to the dry summer, which was the driest and hottest on record for many areas of the UK. It would be an inaccurate assumption to presume that the dry weather had killed off the liver fluke parasite or the mud snails that it relies on in its life cycle.
Wet and poorly drained areas are possible on all farms so despite a dry year. Drinking points on the farm where animals congregate or areas around a water course can be permanently wet. The infective stages of liver fluke will be concentrated in these consistently wet areas that attract the mud snails.
Liver Fluke disease
There are different forms of liver fluke disease acute, sub-acute or chronic.
Acute Liver Fluke – The acute form of liver fluke is found in sheep and is caused by large numbers of immature flukes reaching the sheep’s liver. Unfortunately, acute liver fluke is a severe threat to welfare and can often be fatal.
Sheep affected with a severe infection of acute liver fluke die suddenly from haemorrhage and liver damage. Often the first sign of an issue can be sudden death of a sheep that showed no health issues.
On further investigation of the flock signs of reduced appetite and lethargy will be apparent. Movement of the flock will then show discomfort of movement demonstrating abdominal pain. Mortality can affect 10% of a flock causing a huge economic loss.
Chronic Liver Fluke – affects both sheep and cattle and is the more common form of liver fluke and typically occurs in winter and spring although can continue through the year. Animals affected with chronic liver fluke often exhibit ‘bottle jaw’ ( swelling under the jaw).
Liver fluke causes a reduction in production rate in sheep and cattle, milk yield in dairy cattle can drop by 5-15% and fattening lambs and beef cattle demonstrate a reduced growth rate.
Dairy farmers also have to watch for fluke infections causing metabolic conditions like ketosis or infectious diseases like salmonellosis.
Another issue to be on guard for is that migrating of immature liver fluke can cause a predisposition to clostridial infection in both sheep and cattle. The clostridial infection associated with liver fluke is black disease.
Black disease (Infectious necrotic hepatitis)
Black disease in the UK is typically associated with the migration of liver flukes in unvaccinated cattle and sheep. There are seldom clinical signs as animals are just found dead. Antibiotic response is poor, prevention of black disease by vaccination is crucial especially in areas where liver fluke is predominant.
Liver fluke prevention & management
Undergoing fluke control measures is strongly advised as prevention. Allowing sheep or cattle access to wet or poorly drained areas of the farm which will be habitats for the snail also known as Galba truncatula.
The most effective method of control and prevention of liver fluke is using anthelmintics, which effectively fight the life cycle stages of fluke that appear in a flock or herd at the time of treatment.
Acute fluke treatment – Autumn is a particularly crucial time due to acute fluke infection being most common in sheep and when sheep and cattle can be infected with chronic liver fluke.
For out-wintered sheep to fight against chronic liver fluke, a product to fight both immature and mature forms of fluke is essential and should be used once or twice in autumn, followed up in January. Followed by an effective treatment to combat adult fluke early in the spring.
Chronic fluke treatment – Use of an anthelmintic capable of fighting adult flukes is required for both sheep and cattle in winter or early spring. To reduce the contamination of pastures with fluke eggs.
Unfortunately, there is some known resistance to fluke treatments especially in some areas which include areas of Northern Ireland.
The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control of Cattle Parasites Sustainably (COWS) –Recommend sheep and cattle farmers are proactive in prevention to avoid huge economic loss. A risk assessment should be carried out and monitoring and testing.
Available testing includes specific blood tests, copro (dung) antigen tests and faecal egg detection tests. The SCOPS website advises the best times to do these tests in sheep, and the COWS website advises for cattle. Your vet can help you to use them effectively.
Liver fluke testing avoids unnecessary treatments of animals that aren’t infected, not only does that save time and money but helps prevent overuse of medicines which causes resilience.
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