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Anthrax and Other Notifiable Diseases

Certain highly contagious diseases including Anthrax, are compulsory controlled by the State Veterinary Service under legislation by the Animal Health Act (1981) and various orders. These are known as Notifiable Diseases.

These scheduled diseases, if suspected, must be reported by the person in charge of the animal to the Divisional Veterinary Office or the local authorised body - often the police. The animal must be kept isolated and all stock movements suspended pending instructions from the veterinary officer.

Statutory controlled diseases which occur in the UK include:

African Swine Fever BlueTongue Disease (cattle) Classical Swine Fever
Contagious Agalactia (sheep and goats) Contagious Epidydimitis (sheep and goats) Rabies
Foot and Mouth Disease Enzootic Bovine Leukosis Epizootic Haemorrhagic Virus Disease (deer)
Goat Pox Lumpy Skin Disease (cattle) Pest des Petits Ruminants (sheep and goats)
Pleuro-Pneumonia in cattle Rinderpest (sheep and cattle) Rift Valley Fever (cattle, sheep, goats and camels)
Warble fly Avian Influenza Newcastle Disease (poultry)
Anthrax Aujeszkys Disease Scrapie (sheep and goats)
Sheep Pox (sheep) Swine Vesicular Disease Teschen Disease (pigs)
Tuberculosis in cattle or deer Vesicular Stomatitis (cattle and pigs) Viral Haemorrhagic Disease in rabbits
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)    

Defra Factsheets for most of these diseases are available in ADLIb.
Some diseases occurring in England and Wales are also discussed below.


This occurs world-wide, including the UK, but is most prevalent in tropical countries. It can affect all mammals including man. In the UK it occurs sporadically in cattle and pigs, rarely in horses and sheep. Human contact with infected material must be reported to a doctor.

Anthrax bacilli form spores which can live in soil for 20 years or more - a source of infection over burial places of affected carcasses. Infection enters via contaminated food, skin wounds, inhalation of dust and perhaps, bites of blood-sucking insects.

The incubation period is quite short, sometimes less than 3 days but usually within 2 weeks. Symptoms include bleeding from the nostrils, mouth and anus, a high fever, diarrhoea, swollen throat and neck, difficulty in swallowing. Quite often the animal is found dead. Mild cases can respond to treatment by antibiotic injections.

The disease is best controlled by careful disposal of infected animal carcasses. Any sudden death is suspect and must be reported. Do not move carcasses but cover them with sacks soaked in disinfectant and temporarily fence off.


A highly infectious bacterial disease of sexually mature cattle. This disease has almost been eliminated in the UK but some rare cases do still occur. It can result in prolonged disability if contracted by humans.


This is a genus of a rod shaped aerobic bacteria which can cause food poisoning, fever and diarrhoea and pneumonia which may be fatal in humans and livestock. In cattle it may cause abortion even though the cattle do not appear ill.

It may be introduced onto the farm by newly purchased calves, vermin, occasionally foodstuffs of animal origin and from the spreading of sewage sludge particularly if this is untreated. Pastures may be at risk if the land is spread with infected cattle or poultry manures and slurries. Salmonella can survive for many months in animal dung: allow a six month interval between applying this to pasture and subsequent grazing.

Leptospira hardjo (bovine leptospirosis):

This affects 60% of cattle herds in the UK and an unknown number of sheep. Although infected animals may show no clinical sign of the disease infection can pass to humans relatively easily.

It may be passed from animal to animal and to humans via

  • contact with infected urine,
  • from water or pasture contaminated with infected urine or
  • from contact with products of abortion or placental material.

Disease symptoms are similar to those of flu. Antibiotic treatment is usually very effective but without correct treatment symptoms of the disease may persist for many weeks and in extreme cases may lead to meningitis, jaundice, kidney failure and in rare cases death.

Contact the Health and Safety Executive for more detailed information. Contact the local GP if you suspect a human infection.

Weils Disease:

Can be contracted from rats urine or from still waters and other places around the farm. This may prove fatal and good rat control and hygiene is essential.

Enzootic abortion:

Pregnant women should not associate or work with ewes during lambing and should not come in contact with contaminated clothing. Severe illness and miscarriage may result.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE):

This is a fatal disease of cattle similar to scrapie in sheep and to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. Research is on-going.

Warble Fly:

The Warble fly (Hypoderma sp.) is a large bee-like insect, which is a major cause of 'gadding' in cattle, although the flies do not bite. Further to this the flies lay their eggs on the hairs of the legs and underside of cattle from May to September. These eggs when they hatch release larvae which penetrate the hide immediately. The larvae migrate to the spinal column or gullet, during the autumn and early winter, to lie dormant for a period of some months.

During this period of dormancy the larvae develop into maggots which then return to the hide of the infected animal in early spring. At the hide once more the larvae produces the mark or 'warble' which gives the fly its name. After several days the larvae cuts a breathing hole. For approximately seven weeks the larvae matures under the hide before leaving the host to pupate in the soil.

The larvae damage the gullet, the flesh over the back, and ruin the hide.

The Warble Fly Order 1978 makes it compulsory to treat cattle affected with warbles, during 15 March to 31 July. An Amendment in 1981 further requires the treatment of all cattle over the age of twelve weeks, on premises where there were cattle affected by warbles during the spring.

Treatment is most usually 'strategic' or preventative. Pour-on insecticides should be used once over the back of the animal during September to October (never after mid-November). The application can be made when the warbles appear, but by then the damage has been done.

Swine Vesicular Disease (SVD):

First observed in Italy in 1966, this disease was first detected in the UK in December 1972. This is an infectious disease caused by an enterovirus, which only affects pigs. It is infective in manure and the ground for at least six months. Infection is mainly through pig to pig contact. Airborne spread is not known to occur.

The symptoms are indistinguishable from foot and mouth disease. The incubation period is between two and four days, after which foot lesions appear, and after five to six days lesions appear on other parts of the body. During the active stage of the disease large amounts of virus are spread from the infected pig even before symptoms are apparent. Blisters rupture and form raw ulcers above the coronary band of the feet; discolouration under the horn and separation from the hoof. Snout and mouth ulcers; and fever are also symptoms.

Control of this disease is by eradication, through compulsory slaughter under instruction from a veterinary officer. This is followed by thorough cleansing and disinfecting (specific disinfectants are available for SVD) of the premises and vehicles.

Scrapie Prevention and Control:

There is a need to eliminate spomgiform diseases such as scrapie from animals which may be used for human consumption. The prevention and control of scrapie will help to improve the health of the National flock and so increase confidence in the sheep breeding industry.

Scrapie is an infectious disease which affects the nervous system of adult sheep. It has been present in Europe for at least 200 years and is a notifiable disease in the UK An animal infected with Scrapie may show signs of the following:

  • lack of co-ordination and small muscle tremors especially of the head and neck;
  • over excitement;
  • weight loss, fleece loss;
  • skin irritation leading to damage.
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