Skip to content

Increased risk of three day sickness infection in cattle

Farmers have been warned that a viral disease normally confined to northern and coastal regions of NSW could become a threat to local cattle herds following warm, wet weather conditions throughout the State.

Three Day Sickness, or Bovine Ephemeral Fever (BEF), is spread by biting insects, particularly mosquitoes. After the wettest September on record across NSW followed by further rain in October, mosquito numbers have already begun to increase rapidly.

While the disease is usually rare in southern NSW, outbreaks can occur when insects spread the virus outside its normal range. Local Land Services District Veterinarian, Nigel Gillan, is urging graziers to be alert for possible symptoms in cattle, and to contact their district veterinarian if infection is suspected.

Infected animals will experience a sudden onset of fever, and will stop eating and drinking. They will usually be stiff and reluctant to move, drool saliva, develop a nasal discharge and may have watery eyes. They may also shiver and show signs of lameness.

Joints may appear swollen and some animals will lie down and refuse to move. The fertility of bulls may be affected due to the high fever and abortion may occur in pregnant females.

“In the majority of cases the disease will run a relatively short course, with most animals standing and eating again after the third day, hence the common name, Three Day Sickness,” explained Dr Gillan.

“However, the disease can vary in severity and a small number of animals may stay down for a few weeks. Muscle damage or damage to the spinal cord can occur, particularly due to injuries that occur if the animal falls awkwardly or is unable to stand for an extended period.”

Treatment for affected animals is usually unwarranted, however high value animals such as bulls can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs to promote faster recovery. Animals lying down should be provided with adequate water, food and shelter.

“Vaccination is available and is particularly warranted in high value, at risk cattle, such as bulls, but it needs to be done now in order to get the two doses administered before an outbreak of BEF occurs,” said Dr Gillan.

“Deciding to vaccinate after an outbreak has already begun is far less effective.”

The BEF vaccine is only available through veterinary practitioners.

The disease can have severe economic and production consequences for producers through loss of animal condition, reduced fertility in bulls, reduced milk production, marketing delays and treatment costs. Death can occur in severely affected animals.

Cattle producers that notice stock with symptoms of BEF are urged to contact their Local Land Services District Veterinarian for advice. Notification will also assist authorities in determining if the disease has arrived in the region.

The provision of these services by Local Land Services Vets is provided using funding from annual landholder rate payments.

Media enquiries: Kylie Krause | 0439608370