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Department issues Liver Fluke Forecast

The Department of Agriculture and Food today issued advice to farmers in relation to liver fluke disease in livestock.

The risk of liver fluke is expected to be moderate in most areas of the country due to below average rainfall, generally 60-80% of normal. However, the risk of disease is expected to be high in Atlantic coastal areas.

The dry conditions during the summer were not suitable for the propagation of the snail intermediate host and production of the infective stage of the liver fluke. Notwithstanding this, farmers should be aware of the potential for pockets of infection on individual farms to be associated with wetland that either dried completely or diminished in size during the summer. The danger of disease on land where the water table remains high should be especially noted and farmers with such land should consider the risk of liver fluke disease as being high. In contrast to the summer, rainfall in September has been very high in some parts of the country 200% above average. This along with the mild autumn weather ensures that conditions are optimal for the snail to complete its life cycle and produce the infective stages of the parasite. Consequently, there is a risk that liver fluke may manifest itself, in some sheep flocks and cattle herds, later than normal this winter.

The Department said that the Liver Fluke Advisory Group, has advised that farmers in high risk areas should treat sheep immediately. Farmers in low risk areas should consult their veterinary surgeon and submit faecal samples to their local Regional Veterinary Laboratory for diagnosis before commencing treatments. However, a control programme should be started as soon as possible on those farms with a history of liver fluke disease or where the water table is high. The required interval between treatments in sheep over-wintered at pasture, depends on the severity of the problem, the flukicide used and the continuation or otherwise of the current mild autumn weather into early winter and may vary from three to eight weeks.

The Department said that, under current weather conditions, cattle on most farms need be treated only after housing. Similarly, cattle that are being over-wintered at pasture may be treated four to six weeks later than normal i.e. early winter. However, on those farms with a history of liver fluke any animals showing signs of ill thrift should be treated after consultation with a veterinary surgeon.

Treatment of dairy cows for liver fluke should be carried out at drying off and not during lactation and also advised that all bought-in cattle and sheep should be kept isolated and treated for liver fluke before joining the main herd or flock.

The Department indicated that the foregoing information is based on a disease forecast model based on national weather data collected during the summer and early autumn grazing season. It is issued with a caveat that farmers with poorly performing animals should consult their veterinary practitioners who are familiar with local weather and animal disease patterns for advice on appropriate treatment and preventative measures.

15 November, 2006

1. The Liver Fluke Advisory Group comprises experts from the Central Veterinary Laboratory, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (Northern Ireland), Teagasc, Met Eireann, Pharmaceutical industry and the Schools of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine and Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin
2. Further details on liver fluke and its prevention and control are available in the leaflet "Let's fight fluke" which can be obtained free at all Teagasc offices.
3. The Central Veterinary Laboratory, Backweston, Celbridge, Co Kildare and the Regional Veterinary Laboratories can help veterinary practitioners and farmers by testing dung and blood samples for evidence of liver fluke eggs, antibodies and associated liver damage as well as monitoring the efficacy of anthelmintic treatment.

Date Released: 15 November 2006