Emerging dieseases: Bleeding calf syndrome

As part of Farmers Weekly’s round-up of emerging exotic diseases, Sarah Trickett speaks to Graham David of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency about the bleeding calf syndrome.

Bleeding calf syndrome is something farmers could see more of in the future, according to the VLA’s emerging disease expert, Graham David.

“So far bleeding calf syndrome has mostly been seen in the EU, but this year up to the end of September, 37 calves on 31 farms contracted the disease in England and from April 2009 40 calves on 20 farms in Scotland.”

Little is known about the disease which first appeared in Germany several years ago, but it does seem to be affecting bone marrow in calves, says Mr David. “We know the disease is destroying bone marrow and because that is responsible for producing red and white blood cells, which are vital for the animal’s immune system as well as for blood clotting mechanisms, calves become susceptible to old infections and haemorrhaging is seen.”

There is no evidence it is an infectious disease either. “It could be something to do with calf antibodies, but until we know what is causing it there is not a lot we can do to advise people on how to prevent it,” adds Mr David.

The disease is occurring sporadically throughout the UK, affecting calves from birth up to four weeks old with usually only one or two calves affected on each farm. Symptoms include spontaneous bleeding from what appears to be intact skin, blood in faeces and, once infected, usually death.

“We are looking at complex immunology to find out what is going on and also to see whether some cows with a certain genotype may be more susceptible than others,” he says.