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Anaplasmosis: disease that destroys red blood cells

Anaplasmosis has characteristic postmortem lesions because the disease causes the destruction of red blood cells.

Dear Daktari

I am a dairy farmer here in Kakamega County, I can say I have two herds one of seven indigenous cattle and another five Friesian crosses. The crosses are under zero-grazing but sometimes to get some exercise I let them graze in the open and mingle with my indigenous herd. Last month I lost one of my crosses to a disease my local vet called anaplasmosis. He says this is spread by ticks but I wash my dairy crosses weekly. I have never seen a tick on them and I quietly disagreed with the Vet. The Vet only carried out Postmortem to arrive at the conclusion a reason I am disputing.

Bonaventure Mbakaya

Sorry for the loss and thanks so much for the good question. I say good question because it raises a number of animal husbandry issues.

Your Vet is Right

Allow me to present a contrary opinion in saying that your vet was right. There are a number of methods of arriving at a diagnosis or telling the disease or condition that has infected your sick animal or caused its death.

Postmortem examination of a carcass can accurately show what caused the death and is normally done for the sake of protecting the healthy herd.

Anaplasmosis has characteristic postmortem lesions because the disease causes destruction of red blood cells the blood will therefore be very thin and watery, enlarged spleen, yellow-orange liver, enlarged gall bladder, fluid in lungs are common features.

A seasoned vet can therefore accurately tell that an animal died of anaplasmosis using the visible lesions at postmortem.

Mixed Herds

I note with concern your rearing system that combines indigenous and exotic crosses. This is not a good practice; why do I say so. Anaplasmosis is fatal in old cattle (over two years) and in exotic herds.

Our zebus are relatively resistant to anaplasmosis, this can easily make them carriers for their exotic counterparts.

Rearing them in close proximity or as mixed herds can only increase the chances of your exotic breeds coming down with anaplasmosis.

Clinical Signs of Anaplasmosis

Young animals below one year will not show any clinical sign, those above two years will suffer moderately, but the older cattle will suffer a severe form of the disease.

However young animals with compromised immune status may still suffer the severe form of the disease. Anemia is a common clinical sign and will be shown by pale mucus membranes.

Sick animals will lack appetite, reduced milk production, pregnant animals may abort. Brown urine may be observed.

Management and prevention

Fortunately, anaplasmosis can be treated. Effective treatment outcomes are tied to timely diagnosis and treatment. There are a number of drugs that are used in the effective treatment of anaplasmosis.

To prevent anaplasmosis practice tick control through regular application of acaricides, fencing of your farm to prevent the entry of stray wild and domestic animals.

(Dr. Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own)

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