Research Partner: University of Liverpool
Project Duration: October 2014 – September 2017
Category: Beef & Sheep
PhD Student: Tessa Walsh
Fasciola hepatica, the common liver fluke, is a parasite of sheep and cattle that severely affects the health and welfare of infected animals, but also has major economic consequences for UK livestock production. The prevalence of infection has increased considerably in recent years due to changes in climate, changing farming practices and increased animal movements. There are also growing concerns over the development of resistance to the drugs most commonly used to treat infection in sheep and the lack of drugs licensed for use in dairy cattle.
Existing diagnostic tests all have their limitations. Faecal egg counts (FEC) are slow, lack sensitivity and can be problematic for large, extensively managed herds. Other options include bulk milk tank testing for dairy herds, or testing individual serum or milk samples which specifically detect the presence of antibodies to fluke. Recently, it has been proven that fluke specific antigens can be detected in the faeces of infected animals; however there are concerns over the sensitivity of this method compared to FEC. None of these methods are able to detect animals at risk of acute fasciolosis, which is a major concern of sheep farming. Often farmers have little warning and can lose up to 10% of their flock in a matter of days.
There is clear need for fast and accurate diagnosis of liver fluke infection. The aim of this project is to develop a pen side test which farmers can use with drops of blood collected from ear pricks of individual cattle and sheep to detect one of the major fluke secretory products, Cathespin L. This will enable early identification of currently infected individuals at drying off periods for dairy cattle, or during housing for beef cattle and possibly sheep in the autumn and allow for targeted treatments. This project will ultimately address the growing concern over resistance and also benefit the local farming and wider UK economy.