Beef Expo: Warning over cattle skin condition

A debilitating skin condition of cattle that can cause a loss of production and even death is spreading across the UK.

Psoroptic mange caused by the Psoroptes sp mite has now been confirmed on 23 farms -18 of which are beef farms and five dairy.

It is a disease similar to that of sheep scab, said Alan Murphy of Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency speaking at Beef Expo event in Newark.

Most cases have been concentrated in Wales, but the disease is increasing, with cases confirmed in South West England and a heavily suspicious case also likely in Lincolnshire, said Mr Murphy.

“This disease is spreading due to changes in husbandry and more intensively managed stock. Most Welsh farms are shifting cattle for finishing and they are coming with extras. Biosecurity is key when buying in animals as buying in infected cattle is the principal means of getting the disease along with contact at markets and during transport.”

Psoroptic mange has also caused deaths in young stock in Germany due to secondary infection, added Mr Murphy. “This disease is painful and can not be underestimated. The UK has the opportunity now to say they don’t want it by looking out for symptoms, getting a diagnosis and treating effectively.”

Clinical signs of psoroptic mange are more severe in winter when the mites cause a severe dermatitis with scab formation along the back, shoulders and tail head of cattle which also cause intense itching. Secondary infection is common leading to bleeding and crusting of the skin.

However, the problem could be more wide spread than AHVLA figures due to miss diagnosis. Mr Murphy said it can be easily mistaken for lice. “Treating for lice may suppress some Psoroptes mites but it won’t treat it fully. That can then lead to chronic infection and further spread.

“The majority of cases diagnosed have also failed to respond to macrocyclic lactones which is the licensed treatment for Psoroptic mange. So it is important farmers get a diagnosis which requires skin scrape so you can treat correctly with help from their vet.”