A national surveillance study set up to track the advent of fluke risk across the UK has seen the first case of fluke infection reported.
Vet John Hemingway, from Shropshire Farm Vets, explains the case was discovered on a farm in Church Stoke, Shropshire.
And while it is too simple to assume other farms in the surrounding area will now have fluke, Mr Hemingway says now could be a good time for some of those farmers to think about testing for exposure to fluke.
“The farmer has been advised to treat his sheep now, and will use a triclabendazole, which is the only product that can kill all the life stages of the parasite.
“The farm itself has had a history of fluke issues, so it is not a complete surprise that we have seen fluke exposure on this farm. The farm is liable to flooding during the winter months, and a lot of areas of the farm do stay wet right through the year.”
However, he adds he was slightly surprised that this farm was the first to report fluke exposure out of all 30 farms, from Orkney to Devon, involved in the XLVets fluke sentinel study.
“Theoretically, we would expect south west England and Wales to be the first areas to develop liver fluke risk, and then for the risk to spread north as the country warms up.
“However, the reason we have done this project is to show that every farm has its own micro-climate, micro-environment and stocking density. These farm factors also influence the advent of the risk and the level of fluke challenge.”
Mr Hemingway also says it is wrong to assume fluke exposure will now be similar on all the farms in this area of the UK.
“What it does mean, however, is that now is the right time to start talking to your vet about testing your sheep, to get an idea of whether there is exposure to fluke on your own farm.
“Ideally, farmers need to have blood tests carried out on stock, to provide evidence on which treatment advice can be based."
The blood tests, which cost about £50 to test six animals, can detect the presence of fluke from about two weeks after infection.
Mr Hemingway says: “Faecal egg counts can also be used, but these have limited use in detecting early infections.
“Another option is a faecal copro-antigen test, which is cheaper than a blood test, and detects enzymes produced by fluke in the muck of infected sheep. This can be done by the farmer themselves, instead of needing a vet.”
Mr Hemingway says, if fluke exposure is detected it is important to speak to a vet or suitable qualified person (SQP) about what products to use for treatment.
“Triclabendazole is the only active ingredient that can kill all the life stages of the parasite so should be used for the treatment of early and immature fluke.
“Because of increasing reports of resistance to this product in some parts of the country, it is important treatments are only given when needed, and that products are selected and used strategically.”