Scotland’s cattle sector has been put on red alert after cattle scab was confirmed in the country for the first time in more than 30 years.
The highly contagious disease, which has the potential to put a dairy farm out of business, has been found in a calf on a Borders beef unit.
The cow and calf at foot is thought to have been brought in from Ireland.
The diagnosis was confirmed by SAC Consulting veterinary investigation officers at St Boswells.
The disease was last detected in Scotland in the 1980s, although there have been outbreaks in England and Wales since 2007.
NFU Scotland last night called on the Scottish Government to make cattle scab a notifiable disease, warning it has the potential to establish itself in Scotland very quickly.
“It is imperative that infected cattle are locked-down for transport if this parasite is not to become an endemic problem in Scotland,” said president Nigel Miller. “The disease is a real threat to the cattle industry which causes serious welfare problems in affected animals and impacts heavily on productivity. It is highly contagious, and is very difficult to treat with the products that are currently available.”
The union warned dairy farmers would be worst hit, as there is no licensed product for treatment in lactating cows. The disease would require repeated whole herd treatments, which are likely to leave farmers unable to sell their milk for at least two months.
Mr Miller said: “NFU Scotland calls upon the Scottish Government to revisit the question of making this disease notifiable. A combination of heightened vigilance and notifiable status gives us the opportunity to act now and ensure that this disease is not allowed to become established in Scotland.”
Beef and dairy farmers were last night urged to be on the lookout for the disease and immediately isolate and diagnose any itchy cattle.
SAC Consulting veterinary investigation officer Helen Carty said cattle scab (also known as psoroptic mange) is caused by a mite, similar to that which causes sheep scab, leaving cattle with severe irritation which leads to bleeding and crusting from scratching. It is most commonly found on the back, shoulders and tailhead of cows.
“The mites are funny little creatures,” Ms Carty told the Press and Journal. “They are more active in the winter time, and our experience from colleagues in England and Wales shows there are more problems in the winter with housed cattle.”
She warned the disease can lay undetected in animals, and it may be several months before cattle show any clinical signs.
“If farmers see any suspicious signs, or cattle have any skin lesions, they should speak to their vets and get a diagnosis,” said Ms Carty.
She said skin scrapings and blood tests – the Moredun Institute is working on developing a blood test for cattle scab – to diagnose the disease are available free of charge to farmers, provided the samples are taken by a vet.
Ms Carty said the three options available for treatment are injectable ivermectin – commonly used to treat worms – pour-on permethrin and amitraz, which needs to be imported in from abroad. However, she warned in some cases in England and Wales treatment with ivermectin and pour-on permethrin had proved unsuccessful.
She urged farmers to remove the scabs and wash the wounds before treating cattle, and follow up treatment with a test to prove the medicine was effective.
Last night the Scottish Government said it was not considering intervention at this stage, and instead urged farmers to maintain high levels of biosecurity and consult with their vets if they suspect any of their animals are affected.
A spokesman said: “This rare disease brings no public health implications or international trade restrictions. Therefore we must carefully consider the financial implications on both industry and government of introducing, maintaining and enforcing legislation against what any possible benefits from changing our current approach may be.
“We currently consider that government intervention is not merited and that this is a situation best managed by the industry, but we will continue to monitor the situation and continue to discuss concerns with key organisations.”