Latest Diagnostic Data Highlights the Widespread Nature of Unnecessary Scour Problems

15 February 2011

Too many UK calf units are suffering from costly and unnecessary scour outbreaks caused by extremely common infectious organisms.

Diagnostic data from around 750 calf units and over 1,300 calves suffering from scour problems during 2010 show that rotavirus and cryptosporidia are still the key disease-causing organisms in the UK. But dam vaccination, good colostrum feeding practices and sound hygiene can reduce significantly the financial impact of these causal agents.

The latest disease results come from the Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health ScourCheck scheme, which last year asked veterinary practices to submit their findings from calf-side diagnostic testing in return for free scour test kits.

Over 32% of samples were positive for cryptosporidia with more than 29% positive for rotavirus. The scheme also picked up other significant infectious organisms, with 235 (17.7%) testing positive for coronavirus and 51 calves (3.8%) testing positive for E.coli. Many farms had a mix of the various organisms implicated in disease outbreaks.

“Around 80 vet practices nationwide benefited from using the simple ScourCheck faecal testing kits in 2010,” reports Intervet/Schering-Plough livestock veterinary adviser John Atkinson MRCVS. “And the results certainly highlight the fact that many more farms could benefit from a dam vaccination regime to control their calf scour problems.

“For example, good cow nutrition and calving hygiene, coupled with vaccination of the dam with Rotavec Corona 12 to 3 weeks before calving is a very effective way of reducing scour problems caused by rotavirus, E.coli K99 and coronavirus. Calves gain protection against key disease-causing organisms by drinking the antibody-rich colostrum from their vaccinated mothers.

“Unfortunately, only around 10-15% of cattle are vaccinated nationally. But if you talk to vets in practice, infectious scour problems may be controlled effectively on farms that employ a vaccination regime, implement good hygiene protocols and follow recommended colostrum feeding practices.”

John Atkinson points out that whilst there is no vaccine for cryptosporidia, the disease can still be managed. “If cryptosporidia has been diagnosed on your unit it can be controlled by the use of Halocur,” he says.

“This unique medication reduces the severity of the disease in individual calves and reduces the output of cryptosporidia oocysts, which cuts the risk of disease spread.”

John Atkinson explains that the ScourCheck diagnostic service has helped cattle vets more quickly assess any involvement of common infectious scour agents and the company hopes this will have led to improved disease management approaches on farm.

“We know that both vets and their farmer clients have valued the ability to make an instant diagnosis of scour problems. And by collecting the data from the practices using the new kits we are also able to analyse and then highlight key disease threats on UK calf units.

“These latest results highlight the sheer prevalence of infectious scour-causing organisms on UK calf units. The good news is that by keeping scour management programmes under constant review, the damaging consequences of this costly disease can be reduced,” he says.