Cattle operations in parts of Kansas are dealing with some of the highest anaplasmosis infection levels in the history of the state. While the disease has been endemic here for 100 years or more, veterinarian Gregg Hanzlicek said he has seen a recent surge in cases.
Hanzlicek, with Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, confirms anaplasmosis has spread to the point where every county in the eastern two-thirds of the state has reported infections this year. Asked if the increase is due primarily to ticks, a common spreader of anaplasmosis, or to the introduction of new cattle as operators try to grow herds, he said it's impossible to know for sure.
"We have brought a lot of cattle in from Texas and Oklahoma over the last three to four years, so that may have contributed. Also I think more people are looking for anaplasmosis now," he said.
Anaplasmosis is spread via blood. So ticks, biting flies, needles and ear taggers are all common ways it enters a herd. In an active infection with clinical signs, animals become anemic and suffer from a number of health issues as a result. They will often behave aggressively, stagger, breathe open-mouthed, develop a yellow tinge to the whites of their eyes or vulva.
Carriers typically show no symptoms. Young cattle exposed often simply adapt to the infection, are considered persistently infected and generally go on to live with the disease. So what makes anaplasmosis a life-threatening situation?
"It's basically age and the amount of stress that are the difference between an animal dying from the infection and recovering," said Hanzlicek. He explained that cattle over the age of three and those that are stressed are at more risk of death. In addition, cows with anaplasmosis can abort calves. Research is ongoing as to the impact the disease may have on fertility in bulls.
An effective treatment for an active infection with clinical signs is an injection of oxytetracycline, said Hanzlicek. Some veterinarians, however, discourage treating sick animals, as the stress created working the animals can exacerbate symptoms and actually lead to death. Hanzlicek said this should be determined on a case-by-case basis, as the temperament of some cattle makes them easier to handle with little to no stress.
Producers concerned about anaplasmosis sometimes use feed-grade antibiotics to keep clinical signs of the disease at bay. Hanzlicek stressed, however, that these antibiotics should only be fed in keeping with the label. He said the label on chlortetracycline, for example, does not allow its use for prevention of symptoms, but only to help in the aid of the treatment of an active infection. In addition, he said it's important to note that over the next year producers will be required to have a Veterinary Feed Directive from their veterinarian to use the feed-grade antibiotic.
There are blood tests available to identify those animals infected with anaplasmosis. Once infected, there is no cure. Hanzlicek recommends producers quarantine new cattle until test results can confirm the disease is not present, and that they talk with their veterinarians about the best program for their operations.
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