Farmers warned of tick fever on the rise

Farmers warned of tick fever on the rise

NSW Department of Primary Industries and Local Land Services urge vigilance as tick fever cases are confirmed, stressing the importance of immediate veterinary attention and strict biosecurity measures
to prevent further spread. 

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Local Land Services (LLS) are urging farmers to stay vigilant after tick fever cases were found on cattle farms in northern NSW.

Laboratory analysis at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, conducted by NSW DPI, verified two instances of tick fever, or Babesia bovis, based on samples provided by LLS district veterinarians.

Cattle tick and tick fever are conditions which pose a devastating economic impact on cattle production due to the potential large losses of animals, production losses, restrictions on trade, and treatment costs.

According to NSW DPI, tick fever in cattle can cause fever, weight loss, abortion and bull infertility. Animals could show nervous signs, including change in temperament, lethargy, muscle tremors and difficulty walking.

Cow being checked and treated for ticks by farmer

North Coast LLS district vet Phillip Carter recommended that farmers contact a vet at once
if cattle showed signs of tick fever.

“If treatment is delayed tick fever can kill susceptible animals,” Dr Carter said.

“These are the first new confirmed cases of tick fever in NSW this year and we saw cattle tick infestations and cattle deaths during our inspection of the animals.

“Continued monitoring of the herd for more cases is important as animals may be infected, but not yet show signs. Unexplained deaths are often the first signs that tick fever is present.

“Producers should look out for lethargy, depression, red urine, elevated temperature, jaundice and anaemia in their cattle.”

Dr Carter said tick fever was spread only by cattle tick, and with favourable seasonal conditions for ticks that thrive in warm, humid conditions, he urged producers to practice good farm biosecurity to prevent more cases.

“Producers should check cattle regularly and be on the lookout for ticks, especially with cattle being yarded in preparation for autumn sales,” Dr Carter said.

North Coast LLS district vet Phillip Carter says to continually monitor your herd and look out for “lethargy, depression, red urine, elevated temperature, jaundice and anaemia in cattle.”

Ron Chittick, chair of the NSW Farmers Lismore/Alstonville branch, said his neighbours recently found cattle tick at the saleyards.

“My neighbour and myself have agreed to do a voluntary tick treatment but it’s quite concerning there hasn’t been much communication about the recent discovery – most people don’t really check cattle for ticks because they haven’t been around for a long time, so people have become quite lax,” Mr Chittick said.

“The treatment is simple; the first treatment involves a needle, which is then followed up with a pour-on treatment. But unless your cattle have had ticks, then I don’t believe people make it a priority to really inspect their cattle for ticks.

“I feel there’s a lack of official communication regarding discoveries of the tick. I’ve heard via word of mouth that they’re finding multiple properties with cattle tick, but people are feeling it’s not being properly communicated. So, if you hear that a neighbour has found ticks, it’s time for you to do an inspection and treatment,” said Mr Chittick.

NSW DPI Cattle Tick Operations leader Larry Falls said early intervention was key to minimising the spread and impact of cattle tick and tick fever.

“The record of movement for cattle tick lists the mandatory biosecurity requirements which must be followed when bringing cattle from cattle tick-infested areas into NSW,” Mr Falls said.

“Following these biosecurity requirements helps prevent the introduction and spread of cattle ticks and minimises costs and losses to your enterprise and livestock industries.”

Tick fever and cattle tick were notifiable under NSW biosecurity legislation.

About tick fever

Tick fever is a serious disease in the northern parts of Australia affecting cattle. According to NSW DPI, when tick fever swept through Queensland in the 1990s in the absence of chemical control, about 3 million cattle died.

However, recent advances in tickicides, vaccines and drug technology means tick fever can be controlled.

In Australia, three different organisms cause the disease:

Babesia bovis

• Babesia bigemina

• Anaplasma marginale

Of these three, Babesia bovis was responsible for about 80 per cent of the tick fever outbreaks in Australia. The organisms were microscopic parasites which destroyed the red cells in the blood, similar to malaria in humans.

Cattle that recovered from a natural infection of tick fever carried small numbers of parasites in their blood, usually for the rest of their life.

Typically, older cattle were more likely to be severely affected; calves up to several months old might not show any signs at all.

Farmers should immediately report cattle tick by calling the NSW DPI Cattle Tick Program on 02 6626 1201.

You can also contact the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888.

To learn about a destructive fungal disease impacting Northern River rice crops, click here.

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