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June 2011 Issue
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Abortion parasite discovered in SA cattle

A parasite that is a major cause of miscarriage in cattle, sheep and goats worldwide may be present in one third of South Australia's cattle herds, according to research from the University of Adelaide.

Although the number of cattle infected is low, the parasite can be found in a wide range of beef and dairy cattle herds and represents a threat to breeding.

The culprit is a single-celled parasite called Neospora caninum. It causes spontaneous abortion in cattle, sometimes leading to "abortion storms" among herds. In Australia and New Zealand, losses are estimated to cost animal industries more than $100 million per year. There is currently no vaccine or effective treatment for N caninum infection in Australia.

Two PhD students with the University's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Amar Nasir and Sasha Lanyon, conducted a survey of South Australian beef and dairy herds, testing almost 1000 blood samples.

"The results show that less than 3% of cattle are infected with the N caninum parasite, approximately 38,000 cattle in total. But the infection is widespread and occurs in about a third of all cattle herds - that's about 1400 dairy and beef herds across the state," said the study's supervisor, Professor Michael Reichel.

"The low level of parasite infection may be due to the sunny, dry climate in South Australia and could be good news for primary producers in this state. However, the widespread nature of the infection means that producers should be aware of the likelihood of abortions and the need to quarantine infected stock to prevent further spread of the parasite."

Professor Reichel said parasite infection was much more prevalent in overseas herds of cattle and buffaloes.

PhD student Amar Nasir has been conducting research in South Australia thanks to the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

Story by David Ellis

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