Bleeding Calf Syndrome: Update

UK - An update on bovine neonatal pancytopaenia, otherwise known as bleeding calf syndrome has been released by the National Farmers' Union (NFU).
calendar icon 23 February 2010
clock icon 3 minute read
National Farmers Union

The disease was first diagnosed in Scotland in April 2009 and England in May 2009.

The syndrome, which was first detected in Germany in 2007, although it is thought to have been present in Belgium since 2006, affects calves from 1-2 weeks of age. Other cases have been diagnosed in France, Italy and the Netherlands. The syndrome affects beef and dairy calves of various breeds and crosses.

Up to the end of January 2010, 59 calves on 44 farms have been diagnosed with the condition in England and Wales. 42 calves on 27 farms have been diagnosed with the condition in Scotland.

Antimicrobials, clotting agents, and supportive treatment have been relatively unsuccessful. In one case report, 2 of 3 calves that received blood transfusions died in spite of supportive therapy. In a media report, a farmer indicated that vitamins and blood-clotting agents had not been effective.

Clinical signs have been relatively consistent across all countries detecting the syndrome:

  • persistent fever reaching 41 deg C [105.8 deg F];
  • spontaneous hemorrhage from the nostrils, mouth, rectum, injection, or tagging sites;
  • internal hemorrhage and bruising often present on gums and eyes;
  • intestinal bleeding, blood shed with faeces;
  • severe secondary infections like diarrhea or pneumonia;
  • death within a few hours to days after 1st signs observed.

The symptoms are caused by an almost complete destruction of the bone marrow of the calf which produces the red and white blood cells vital for the animal’s immune system and blood clotting mechanisms.

This seems to be occurring at or around the time of birth, although it is uncertain whether the damage is occurring in the womb or soon after birth.

Only a few calves have been affected in any one herd, but once affected they usually die. Only calves less than four weeks old are affected. The mothers of the affected calves are usually perfectly healthy.

The cause of this syndrome is not yet known. There are a number of lines of investigation which are being pursued, which include management and environmental factors on the affected farms. There is currently no evidence of an infectious agent but it cannot be totally ruled out at this point.

Research carried out by Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VLA) and Scottish Agricultural College, funded by Defra and the Scottish Government, is ongoing and is designed to identify the potential factors which might be causing the disease.

Some people have expressed concern about zoonotic or food chain issues. As the age of the animal affected is 0 – 4 weeks, they would not be entering the food chain. The age they are affected is very consistent and the disease has never been seen in older animals.

There has been no direct evidence or reports of any potential transmission to people in Germany where the disease has been present for at least 18 months.

If farmers see any of the symptoms in their cattle they should consult their own vet who can submit calves to the local VLA laboratory for a full examination.

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