Lungworm (husk) disease cases shown to be increasing in prevalence according to an independent survey. 40% of 202 dairy farmers that took part in the survey had heard their dairy youngstock coughing during their first grazing season. A third of dairy farmers had been affected by the disease in the past 3 years.
More worrying still is that 40% of second grazers and even 38% of adult cattle were found to have lungworm, which indicates that cattle are not developing a lifetime immunity anymore.
What is Lungworm?
Lungworm (also known as Husk), is caused by the worm Dictyocaulus viviparus. Cattle develop the disease after digesting grass with the infected larvae. From the cows gut, it works it’s way to the lungs where it lays eggs and lives in the airways of the lungs, causing respiratory issues and coughing in both young and adult cattle.
Mild wet weather causes an increase of lungworm population and prevalence of the disease which can prove fatal to stock with little or no immunity to the disease.
How Lungworm is Spread
Lungworm larvae are passed in cattles faeces, by the time the eggs come out in the faeces they have developed into an infective larval stage which makes them highly infectious to any animal that comes in contact.
Lungworm larvae can be spread large distances by the fungus Pilobolus which is found on cow and other herbivores dung. This Pilobolus propels the lungworm larvae into the air and can travel relatively large distances (between farms) in a strong wind. This can make it hard to eliminate it from a farm.
Lungworm Strategies Need to Be in Place Prior to First Grazing
It is crucial to have a strategy in place for youngstock prior to their first grazing. Worming alone is not a long-term solution as it is important to work on the cattle’s immunity level to the condition for long-term control of this debilitating disease.
The Clinical Signs of a Lungworm Infection:-
- Moderate to severe cough and increased respiratory rate/effort
- Weight Loss
- Reduced milk yield
- Death in severe cases
Lungworm is always a potential problem on a dairy farm. Even if there has been no previous history of the disease on the farm there is a potential of infective larvae being blown onto the farm via airborne spread as discussed earlier.
Vaccination is the only prevention and uses irradiated live larvae to cause a controlled infection to help immunity but doesn’t cause the disease. A full course of the vaccine is given to youngstock, the second dose is necessary at least 2 weeks before the cattle are turned out and vaccinated and unvaccinated stock must be kept apart for at least 2 weeks after the second vaccination.
The best course of action to maintain immunity is that calves are exposed to low levels of the lungworm larvae throughout grazing.
Despite worming having the ability to prevent the condition, it may be the case that it is too effective and prevents calves having any exposure to the disease. Which is the probable cause of a drop in cattle’s natural immunity to the condition and a rise in lungworm cases in adult cattle.
Don’t Vaccinate Cattle with the Condition
Don’t vaccinate animals showing symptoms, or that are suspected to carry the disease already, as this can potentially make the animals worse. Animals with lungworm should be wormed, treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories as required.
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