Watch for Akabane affected calves this calving season

Routine blood testing of cattle herds in the region for insect borne diseases has recently detected antibodies against Akabane virus, which can affect the developing foetus of a calf during pregnancy. The stage of pregnancy at the time of infection will determine the extent of the abnormalities caused.

Andrew Biddle, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services District Veterinarian said that most cattle in the region are likely to have low or limited immunity from previous exposure to the virus, with these immunity levels decreasing as you move west from the eastern Northern Tablelands towards Moree and Narrabri.

“While the Northern Tablelands has had some small incursions of the virus in recent years, we haven’t seen a large outbreak of Akabane induced birth defects since the early 2000s”, he said. “Once cattle have been infected by the virus they are usually immune for life, but immunity levels across herds in general are likely to be very low this season”.

If infection occurs during early pregnancy, the development of the brain can be severely affected causing stillbirth, death shortly after birth or abnormally shaped heads at birth, with severe brain defects, often referred to as dummy calves. If infection occurs from 3-6 months gestation, deformities in the legs (arthrogryposis) or spine can occur. Calves infected in the final months of pregnancy may be uncoordinated or have difficulty suckling. This season producers should be on the lookout for stillbirths, cows having difficulties delivering deformed calves and calves that are deformed, blind, uncoordinated or struggle to get up off the ground after birth.

“There is currently no vaccine available to prevent the Akabane virus, so we are asking cattle producers to closely monitor their herds during the calving period”, said Dr Biddle. “It is important that we diagnose potential cases and keep track of any further spread of the virus in our region.”

If producers suspect cases of Akabane they are advised to contact their local veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis. Local Land Services District Veterinarians are also available to collect samples as needed to determine if the abnormalities have been caused by Akabane or another virus that causes similar abnormalities such as Pestivirus.

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