Wet weather fires fluke crisis

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ONE OF the unwanted legacies of 2012 is the vastly increased numbers of livestock infected with the liver fluke parasite. Earlier this month, a leading research scientist dealing with this problem, Dr Philip Skuce from the Moredun Research Institute, admitted that the past 12 months had seen fluke problems multiply.

“Farmers all over the country are now facing a major challenge,” he said. “We have seen fluke outbreaks in previously fluke-free areas and unusually severe problems in areas that would traditionally be able to control the parasite.”

He added that the problem was even occurring in livestock that had been treated.

The extremely wet weather over the past 12 months has favoured a massive increase in the snails which act as intermediary hosts for the parasites. As a result many pastures were now heavily contaminated with live fluke cysts cast from the snails.

The problems for the farmer are twofold. The first is in the diagnosis of infection which is extremely difficult and which takes time. Skuce pointed out that death often occurred in the six to seven weeks taken for diagnosis.

Hopes that a new type of diagnostic test, a faecal antigen ELISA, might provide quicker and more accurate information had proven to be too optimistic, he admitted.

The Moredun were now looking at using DNA based methods for fluke detection, and if they proved successful then this would be a significant step forward. “Watch this space” he said optimistically.