Fluke crisis ‘ is only going to get worse’

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Livestock farmers hoping their current problems with liver fluke affecting their cattle and sheep were now at a peak in this parasitic activity suffered a major setback yesterday.

Research workers at SRUC – the Scottish rural college – have predicted that the UK may experience unprecedented levels of fluke problems over the next 60 years.

The future maps produced by the researchers show that serious epidemics can be expected to be the norm by 2020 in parts of Scotland.

With severe losses already being reported this year in established fluke areas, as well as some parts of the country not normally threatened, the researchers at SRUC say their findings should be used to help target future resources for disease surveillance and control.

Naomi Fox, who has worked in this research field for a number of years, said that when she first published the work in 2011 there was little response.

“But after what has been suffered recently I think many in the industry will be able to understand better the knock on effects the research suggests,” she said.

“SRUC colleagues in Scotland are reporting that, because of the conditions and despite treatment programmes, animals are being re-infected almost as soon as they are cleared. It is wearing them down.”

The prediction of more problems to come emerges from linking up increases in rainfall, milder winters and the existence of increased numbers of the parasite.

While the present fluke crisis facing Scottish producers has followed two wet years, researchers suggest that, in future, even drought years could be a problem, with livestock forced to graze the grass still growing in boggy areas and which is infested with mud snails which are the intermediary hosts of the liver fluke.