It’sa no fluke that parasite is widespread

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In THE past year, liver fluke has become a major problem across the country, with wet weather and a mild winter suiting it perfectly, allowing it to multiply to the point where, in recent months, there has been a tenfold increase in cases of the parasite.

Now a leading research scientist, Dr Philip Skuce from the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, has warned that another fluke – the rumen fluke – could become as widespread as its better-known relation, and as costly in animal disease terms.

He said he did not want to be alarmist but he had seen as many cases of rumen fluke last year as in the previous five years combined.

Speaking at the launch of the 2013 Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) research and development report in Perth, Skuce that, while rumen fluke might be becoming more common, actual disease caused by the parasite was still very rare.

He cautioned that the presence of rumen fluke alone, in the absence of clinical signs, was not to be taken as an indication to blanket treat animals. The inherent danger in doing so was that at present there is only one effective flukicide to control the parasite and overuse of that product brought with it the danger of building up resistance to the treatment.

“The rumen fluke favours the same intermediate host mud snail as the liver fluke which means that it may become as widespread as liver fluke,” he warned, particularly if prevailing weather patterns continue.

Research into controlling fluke was one of the 29 different projects financially supported by QMS in the past year, with Professor Charlotte Malin, science and innovation manager with the organisation, stressing the £220,000 investment brought with it a tenfold benefit through strategic links with other funding bodies.

Professor Phil Thomas, chair of the research and development committee at QMS, highlighted the increased attention being paid to research work as a there was a widening realisation of an increased world population requiring more food.

In another of the QMS-supported projects, Sarah Thomson, a PhD student at Moredun, highlighted the severe impact of Cryptosporidiosis which causes scour on the Scottish cattle herd.

Veterinary surveillance reports showed, she said, that last year the disease was responsible for 35 per cent of scour outbreaks in calves less than one month old in Scotland.

Despite its importance to the health of the national herd, very little is known about the different strains and control method options are limited.

“Cryptosporidiosis is of great importance to the UK livestock industry,” she said. “Infected animals may suffer from diarrhoea, loss of appetite and dehydration and in severe cases infection may cause death. Those most at risk are young livestock around two to ten days old.

“There is no vaccine to prevent Cryptosporidiosis and treatment options rely largely on rehydration therapy.”