Vet warns liver fluke is reaching crisis levels in NI

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A leading veterinary surgeon is deeply concerned about the extremely high levels of liver fluke infestation which, he believes, could be impacting on Northern Ireland’s dairy, beef and sheep industries.

If this assumption is correct, the three sectors could be losing out to the value of £millions in terms of significantly reduced animal performance levels.

“We have just experienced one of the wettest winters in living memory and this was preceded by a grazing season which saw many parts of the province affected by heavy rains,” confirmed Craig McAlister, a director of the Parklands’ veterinary group.

“All of this adds up to the perfect development conditions for the liver fluke parasite, which requires the mud snail to complete its life cycle.”

McAlister said that his concerns have been heightened by the fact that sales of flukicides, the drugs used to treat liver fluke infestations, have dropped off significantly over recent months.

“This may well reflect the severe economic pressure on farm businesses at the present time. However, liver fluke is an extremely straightforward condition to test for.

“Analysis of dung samples from individual animal will quickly confirm the presence, or otherwise, of fluke eggs.

“Dairy farmers can also opt to have a bulk milk tank sample tested, to assess the liver status of their herds. Results can be back with the farmer in around 24 hours.”

McAlister explained that livestock cannot develop a resistance to liver fluke.

“If animals are infected, they must be treated accordingly,” he stressed. Liver fluke is a highly pathogenic parasite of sheep and cattle. It causes severe liver damage, especially in sheep, and can result in the sudden death of previously healthy animals. The disease is also responsible for considerable economic losses alone, due to direct fall-offs in production, poor reproductive performance and livers condemned at slaughter.

The disease appears to be on the increase throughout the island of Ireland. It is spreading into previously fluke-free areas, possibly as a result of recent climate change (milder winters and wetter summers) favouring the parasite and its mud snail intermediate host.