Rumen fluke in cattle and sheep: measuring impact and improving diagnosis

Project Number:            61110051

Lead Contractor:           Queen’s University

Start and end dates:    31 December 2016 – 30 December 2019

 

The Problem:

Whilst traditionally regarded as being of minor importance in Europe, recent evidence suggests that the prevalence of paramphistomosis is greater than that of fasciolosis in parts of the UK.

The livestock industry is increasingly concerned about levels of helminth parasite burdens as these are associated with pain and distress when they reach pathogenic levels. Despite considerable anecdotal evidence that diarrhoea and production loss are caused by chronic rumen fluke infection (especially in cattle), it is still unclear to what extent such infections impair animal welfare and translate into measurable production losses.

Current diagnosis of rumen fluke relies on labour-intensive methods such as examination of animals at post-mortem or faecal egg counts – both methods requiring highly trained personnel. Therefore, rapid diagnostic tests for rumen fluke infection are urgently required.

 

Aims and Objectives:

The overall objective of the proposed project is to address the emerging threat to animal health, welfare and livestock sustainability posed by an increased incidence of rumen fluke (paramphistomes) in sheep and cattle.

The specific aims are to determine:

  1. What is the extent of the rumen fluke problem in the UK?
  2. What is the impact of rumen fluke on animal performance, health & welfare?
  3. Can a rapid and specific diagnostic test for rumen fluke be developed?

 

Approach:

A multiplex PCR-based assay will be used to detect both liver fluke and rumen fluke in snail populations and correlate these with parasitological data obtained from livestock on site. Integration of abattoir data (supplied by our industry partners) with that obtained during the molecular survey will provide a better understanding of the spread of rumen fluke and will also inform the most appropriate treatment options where co-infections are found.

Using field studies and detailed metabolic investigations (digestibility trials), the true impact of rumen fluke disease on the health, welfare and performance of sheep and cattle will be investigated. Furthermore, this project will develop welfare indicators to detect infections early and thus enable effective therapeutic intervention before the onset of pathogenesis.

The use of “-omics” technologies will allow development of ELISA-based methods for detection of Paramphistome infection in faecal samples and bulk milk. Importantly, preliminary analysis of rumen fluke secretions has already identified several dominant antigens that will be targeted as part of this proposal.