9:00am Sunday 12th July 2009
LOVE it or hate it, increasing temperatures due to climate change are here to stay. I won’t get into a debate about the positive and negative aspects of climate change, as they seem to have saturation coverage almost everywhere that you look.
Instead, I would like to highlight how climate change is having an impact on newly-emerging diseases in our domestic and farm animals.
Many pathogens are spread by insects (or vectors as they are known) allowing the disease to pass from animal to animal, farm to farm, county to county and even country to country.
Any farmer will be aware of the current problem with Blue Tongue disease amongst sheep and cattle. This viral disease is spread by a midge insect which only thrives in warmer climates.
BT virus traditionally was found in Mediterranean countries but since 1998 has been steadily working its way north and the first reported case was seen in England in September 2007.
It is now thought to be ubiquitous over most of England and encroaching into Scotland.
Leishmaniasis and Dirofilaria (commonly known as heartworm) are both infections of dogs and cats which again have been traditionally associated with continental Europe. Transmitted by biting flies, the temperate UK climate has proved a less than ideal breeding ground for the insects and so the UK has so far remained free from endemic infection.
Both diseases are serious, life-threatening ailments with limited treatment options once contracted. Currently only pets travelling to continental Europe seem to be at risk of catching these diseases but it has been predicted that both diseases are likely to become endemic in the Southern Counties within five to ten years as temperatures slowly climb.
Angiostrongylus (or lungworm as it is more commonly known) is a round worm that most pet owners will not have heard of. Transmitted by slugs and snails, lungworm has been rife in Wales for a number of years now where it is well suited to the damp conditions that favour its vector.
The change in our climate leading to more prolonged episodes of heavy rain and saturated ground have proved ideal breeding grounds for slugs and snails. Their exponential increase in the wet summer months of 2007 saw a massive jump in numbers of pets being infected with lungworm.
Lungworm can remain undetected for a number of weeks whilst it interferes with blood clotting and lung function. Often the first an owner knows of an infection is when their pet comes in bleeding from the nose, mouth or eyes with no obvious cause.
Prompt aggressive treatment is required but even so there is about a 50 per cent mortality rate. Prevention is the best option by dosing with a wormer known to cover lungworm every eight weeks during the wetter months, particularly if it is warm as well.
As our climate changes and diseases sweep across Europe, we can expect to see more and more ‘tropical’ diseases hit our shore – best hope that we are ready for them.
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