9 February 2024
The director of animal health issued an urgent warning to South African cattle farmers after Zimbabwe’s veterinary services reported outbreaks of theileriosis or East Coast fever.
Theileria parva, the bovine-adapted protozoan parasite, is highly contagious. Infected cattle can be diagnosed with East Coast fever and die. The disease is transmitted by brown ear ticks.
South Africa has not imported live cattle from Zimbabwe for a long time and the import requirements for other risk commodities, including hides and hay, require them to be tick-free.
However, factors such as illegal cattle imports or the inadvertent spread of infected ticks through hay, hides, people or vehicles crossing the border pose a significant risk.
Dr Mpho Maja, director of animal health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said the outbreak of East Coast fever in Zimbabwe poses a potential threat to South Africa. She appealed to cattle farmers to follow all necessary measures to mitigate this risk.
Due to the breeding cycle of the brown ear tick, higher rainfall during summer in summer rainfall areas poses the highest risk of disease transmission. This also poses a higher risk to South Africa from December to May.
“The occurrence of bovine-adapted Theileria parva strains can have a serious adverse effect on the existence and sustainability of the livestock industry,” said Maja.
“The management, control, and/or eradication of this disease require highly intensive and costly efforts that are difficult to sustain. Therefore, early warning and immediate eradication of any case, should it occur, are of utmost importance.”
East Coast fever in cattle is associated with a high number of deaths, especially with an outbreak in animals previously unexposed to it.
All types of Theileria parva are controlled diseases in South Africa and any suspicion of the disease must be immediately reported to the state veterinarian for further investigation and sample submission.
“We encourage everyone to apply strict biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of all animal diseases, including not introducing animals with an unknown health status into their herds,” says the statement from Maja’s department. “Regular treatment of cattle to reduce tick loads is strongly recommended.”