Research gives farming vets better understanding of diseases

From time to time our farmers rib vets, accusing us of inventing new diseases which we then use to terrify them with.

I can assure our sceptical farming friends that nothing could be further from the truth, although I can see why they might hold this suspicion.

Modern research and diagnostics mean we have never before had such a detailed understanding of diseases and how they arise. Many of the “new” problems are old ones we have either learned more about or have returned to trouble us when we thought they had been eradicated.

In this respect Johne’s Disease and Campylobacter infertility in cattle come to mind.Other “new” diseases can be those which have previously been endemic overseas before the UK suffers an incursion, as with Bluetongue Virus a few years back. Indeed, the only genuinely new infection in recent times was Schmallenberg Disease.

But, last week I got a major scare as I read a laboratory report on a case I had been treating. The report was for a ram which had been found collapsed and having difficulty getting up and walking.

Dave, his owner, thought he’d fixed the problem with antibiotics and vitamins, but when it relapsed, I was called to make a diagnosis.

It transpired that this was the third ram to succumb to similar symptoms and, after a detailed examination, my “presumptive” diagnosis was listeria encephalitis.

Sadly, despite medication, the sheep’s condition declined until there was no alternative but euthanasia. In view of the diagnosis, Dave agreed to a post-mortem examination to establish the cause of death.

Liver fluke parasites were found and brain tissue sent to the lab to confirm my presumption.

The report arrived in my in-tray a few days later.

You can imagine my alarm when I read the words “Alzheimer Type II cells”.

How was I going to tell Dave his ram had had Alzheimer’s? This was just too much ammunition for our “not another new disease” sceptics.

It transpired “Alzheimer Type II cells” is the term used to describe changes to brain cells damaged by the toxic effects of liver disease. So the liver fluke infestation was the rare cause of Dave’s ram’s encephalitis condition.

Liver fluke has been an enduring problem this winter due to the un-seasonally warm and wet weather we’ve had.

Our reception staff has been on red alert to make sure vets speak to farmers about these unusual circumstances.