01 March 2015 | Online since 2003



Farmers urged to be vigilant as first case of cattle scab found


The first case of Cattle Scab to be confirmed in Scotland since the early 1980s has been diagnosed by vets at SAC Consulting’s St Boswells Veterinary Investigation Centre.

The disease was found on a Borders farm in a calf recently imported, with its suckler cow mother, from outwith Great Britain.
Cattle Scab, otherwise known as psoroptic mange, is caused by mites that pierce the skin to feed and cause immense irritation. The signs are similar to those of sheep scab which is also caused by a mite.

Clusters of Cattle Scab cases have been found in Wales, South West England and Yorkshire but this is the first case in Scotland. The disease is also present in mainland Europe and Ireland. It is more common in beef cattle in Europe, but dairy herds have also been infected. In Belgium, it is considered the most economically important ectoparasitic disease of cattle.

The disease has severe welfare and economic consequences as it causes severe dermatitis with scab formation along the back, shoulders and tail head, but it can also extend over the lower body, hind legs and the tail. There is usually intense itching and secondary infections are common leading to bleeding and crusting. Affected animals inevitably lose weight and in extreme cases death can occur.

Helen Carty of SAC Consulting Veterinary Services commented: “Cattle Scab is a severe skin disease, with serious welfare implications for cattle if not quickly identified and treated correctly. It has the potential to become established in Scotland because of the movement of animals and the difficulties of treatment. I would urge farmers to remain vigilant for any signs of Cattle Scab and to notify their vet of any suspect cases.”

In 2011 vets at the then Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and scientists at the Moredun Research Institute (MRI) in Edinburgh issued warnings urging farmers to be vigilant and to take care when buying in cattle. They were advised to contact their vets if they suspected they had a problem. Since then SAC Consulting has offered a free analysis of suspected cases while MRI researchers are developing a blood test to uncover hidden infection. Both have received co operation from farmers and vets.

According to Dr Alasdair Nisbet of MRI: “Cattle may not show signs immediately after infection, allowing the silent spread of disease within, and between, herds. At Moredun we have been adapting the diagnostic blood test for sheep scab to detect mange cases in cattle. To determine the sensitivity and specificity of the test, that’s its ability to detect disease and tell us if disease is not present, we have been working closely with colleagues from SAC Consulting, AHVLA and from Belgium where this disease is a common affliction of Belgian Blue cattle. ”

Farmers should report any suspect cases to their vet. Laboratory diagnosis is essential to differentiate the scab mite from other external parasites that infect cattle. Skin scrapings, including scab material are needed for examination under the microscope.

“Treatment of ‘scab’ in cattle is problematic”, says Helen Carty. “Successful treatment is not straightforward. All the animals in the group, and any other in-contact animals, regardless of whether they are showing clinical signs, must be treated. Experience in Wales suggests the mites are resistant to commonly used products and none are licensed for use in milking dairy cows.”

NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller commented: “NFU Scotland has been concerned about the possible spread of cattle psoroptes into Scotland for a number of years and has issued warnings on several occasions to our members, alerting them to the risks if importing cattle from high risk areas. We have approached the Scottish Government on a number of occasions to recognise the significant risks posed by this disease and to make it notifiable.”

“It is imperative that infected cattle are locked-down for transport if this parasite is not to become an endemic problem in Scotland. If it does become endemic it will affect the status of Scottish cattle and undo the hard work of the industry to establish a reputation for quality within Scottish cattle.”

“We congratulate the vets that picked up the disease following import and can only hope that prompt detection and follow up may help limit the repercussions.”

“Keepers should be mindful of strict biosecurity measures against this disease, including careful sourcing of animals, isolation/quarantine of bought in or suspect animals and heightened vigilance.”

“NFU Scotland calls upon the Scottish Government to revisit the question of making this disease notifiable. A combination of heightened vigilance and notifiable status gives us the opportunity to act now and ensure that this disease is not allowed to become established in Scotland.”

In order to encourage submission of samples from suspect cases, SAC Consulting Veterinary services is offering free testing of skin scrapings from suspected cases thanks to funding from the Scottish Government. Vets are also encouraged to take blood samples from suspect cases. These will be forwarded to the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh. All samples should be sent to your local SAC Consulting Veterinary Services Disease Surveillance Centre.

While under the Sheep Scab (Scotland) Order, 2010 farmers must notify the authorities if they suspect they have a case, Cattle Scab (psoroptic mange) is not currently notifiable in cattle.

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