The National Disease Information Service (NADIS) has warned of the risk of liver fluke disease in parts of the UK and recommended farmers take action now to protect their animals.
NADIS reported high risk in northern and western Scotland, and a moderate risk in western England, Wales and eastern Scotland. Fluke counts are likely to rise further as the winter progresses.
The Scottish Agricultural College reports that north east Scotland has a significant problem with the disease. Novartis Animal Health vet Simon Harris points out that to ensure treatment is cost effective it must kill the immature fluke which abound at this time of year.
Mr Harris said: "Deciding when to treat stock is a difficult question, and farmers should seek advice from a vet or advisor. Adult fluke pass eggs, so faecal egg count testing is a good indication of infection and the need for treatment. However, immature fluke migrating through the liver can kill stock before reaching the egg shedding stage, so precautionary treatment may well be needed, especially in the fluke risk areas."
Sheila Rusbridge, Centre Manager of the Scottish Agricultural College in Aberdeen, said: "When I came here 18 years ago fluke did not exist in cattle and sheep in north east Scotland, now it is quite prevalent."
Dr Rusbridge said: "There are a lot more options to monitor for fluke before people treat their animals. Faeces testing means that treatment can be as cost effective as possible. The farmer can take ten fresh faeces samples from a group of cattle or sheep into the lab where they are bulked and examined for presence of fluke eggs. This gives a valuable indication to the farmer of whether action is necessary," she said.
Reports from Welsh meat processors reveal a worrying increase in the number of cases of liver fluke detected in lambs that have been slaughtered recently - and experts are urging farmers to take action now to protect their animals.
A monthly Sheep Fluke Alert sent out to producers by Dunbia Wales due to the growing problems caused by liver fluke revealed that the company had to condemn 18% (11,708kg) of the livers from slaughtered lambs in August, up from 15% found during the same period in 2009.
In its September report, Dunbia Wales reported that the number of livers it had to condemn due to liver fluke damage jumped up to 20%, compared with 18% in the same month last year.
It warns that the latest statistics indicate a significant level of infection in ewes pre-tupping, which could lead to poor conception rates and lower scanning figurers later on.
Novartis Animal Health veterinary advisor Saul Harvey said: "Farmers must be on the look-out for the emergence of early immature fluke, especially after periods of heavy rain. They need to take action to protect their animals - and their profits - as soon as possible."
"The fluke worms can seriously affect the condition and growth of sheep and even lead to "sudden death" in some acute cases.
"Sheep farmers should use a flukicide such as Fasinex for 3 stage fluke control, or Fasimec Duo S for combined fluke and worm control. Fasinex 240 with its low volume concentrated formula for easy dosing offers a solution for cattle farmers", he explained.
Mr Harvey pointed out that once ingested, early fluke stages burrow down through the liver causing substantial production losses. Adult fluke then causes further damage as they finish their development in the livers’ bile ducts, feeding on the animals’ blood and protein before passing out eggs
in the faeces to restart the cycle.
"It is important that both sheep and cattle farmers across the UK are aware of the fluke risk this year and ensure their animals are protected against the consequences of this damaging disease, because it could occur anywhere across the UK," he added.