A Guide for Broadcasters to Some Important Livestock Diseases

Livestock and beekeeping


There are simply too many kinds of livestock diseases for a non-expert to be familiar with every one. This article provides a few basic facts about twelve of the most important and widespread livestock diseases. This information is basic, but it can help you decide what diseases to focus on when designing a radio program. To produce relevant programs for farmers in your audience, you will need to do local research. Find out what livestock diseases are the most serious in your area now and which ones might be a problem in the future. Talk to farmers, scientists, veterinarians and agricultural extension workers. If you have access to the Internet, consult the websites listed at the end of this article. Don’t forget that many important livestock diseases can be transmitted to humans, including Rift Valley Fever, rabies and anthrax. So remember to include human health issues when preparing your programs.

African Swine Fever

Animals infected by African Swine Fever virus include pigs, warthogs, bush pigs, and the European wild boar. This disease can be transmitted in four different ways. First, a sick animal may directly contact a healthy animal. Second, animals may feed on infected meat. Third, African Swine Fever can be transmitted by some kinds of ticks.  Fourth, it can be carried on physical objects such as cars, trucks, tools and clothing.

Where disease occurs:  Sub-Saharan Africa and a few parts of Southern Europe.

Prevention and Treatment: There is no vaccine or treatment.

Symptoms: Fever, reddening of skin, loss of appetite, listlessness, increased heart and breathing rate, vomiting, diarrhea,eye discharge, abortion in pregnant sows

Death rate: In domestic swine, close to 100%.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
BSE affects domestic cattle and many species of wild cattle such as the nyala, greater kudu and gemsbok. Variants of the disease can also be present in domestic and wild cats such as the cheetah, puma, ocelot and tiger. These animals catch BSE by eating infected meat or bone meal. It is believed that humans can get a variant of the disease by eating infected meat.

Where disease occurs -Great Britain and countries that have received infected meat products from Great Britain
Prevention and treatment -There is no vaccine or treatment.
Symptoms -Anxiety, increased startle response, or depression. Heightened skin sensitivity and reflexes. Muscle twitching, trembling or uncontrolled muscular contractions.
Death rate-The incubation period for this disease can be up to two years, but once the symptoms occur, all infected animals will die from complications.

Contagious bovine pleurapneumonia (CBP)
Cattle, zebus and water buffalo can be infected with CBP. It is transmitted through urine, saliva or airborne droplets from coughing animals, sometimes at a distance of up to several kilometres away. Mothers can also infect their young. Animals can be carriers without showing symptoms.

Where disease occurs -Widespread in Africa and present in southern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
Prevention and treatment -An effective vaccine is widely used. There is no effective treatment.  Antibiotics are ineffective and should not be used.
Symptoms -Moderate fever with congested breathing and lungs. Panting, characteristic posture (elbows turned out, arched back, head extended), and cough (at first dry, slight, and not fitful, becoming moist). When the animal gets up or after exercise, breathing becomes laboured and grunting can be heard. Calves may have arthritis with swelling of the joints.

Foot and mouth disease (FMD)
FMD affects a wide range of animals including cattle, zebus, domestic buffaloes, yaks, sheep, goats, swine, pigs, and hogs. Camels, dromedaries, llamas, and vicunas are less susceptible. It can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals, or through contact with human clothing, cars, farm tools or other inanimate objects which carry the virus. The virus can travel up to 60 km overland and 300 km by sea.

Where the disease occurs -Throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America, with irregular outbreaks in other areas, e.g., Europe.
Prevention and treatment -Susceptible animals should be vaccinated. Two vaccinations given 1 month apart provide at least 6 months immunity. In endemic areas, revaccination every six months is recommended. Attention must be paid to using the correct strain of vaccine for the disease in the area.
Symptoms –Cattle: fever, shivering, reduction in milk, smacking of lips, grinding of teeth, drooling, lameness, stamping or kicking of feet. Cattle generally recover within 8-15 days.
Sheep, goats and pigs -foot lesions.
Death rate -Low in adults, but can be high in young animals.

Peste des petits ruminants (PPR)
Goats and sheep are the animals most often affected with this viral disease, though cattle and pigs can be infected without displaying obvious symptoms. It is transmitted through bodily fluids — urine, saliva, etc. — from infected animals, and is more frequent during the rainy or the dry cold season.

Where the disease occurs -Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, Nepal, and India.
Prevention and treatment – A vaccine gives strong immunity. There is no effective treatment, though antibiotics may prevent secondary infections.
Symptoms -Sudden fever, restlessness, dull coat, dry muzzle, little appetite.  Abundant nasal discharge, respiratory illness, pink eye, severe diarrhea, pneumonia with coughing, abortion, dehydration, emaciation, abnormally low body temperature, and death within 5-10 days.
Death rate -50-80%

Rift Valley Fever
A wide range of animals can be infected with this viral disease, including cattle, sheep, goats, dromedaries, some rodents, wild ruminants, buffaloes, antelopes, and wildebeest. Humans can also get the disease. It is transmitted by many different types of mosquitoes. Humans can also be infected by handling infected animals and meat.

Where the disease occurs -Sub-Saharan Africa.
Prevention and treatment -There is an effective vaccine.
SymptomsCalves -fever and depression.
Adult cattle -fever, excessive salivation, weakness, diarrhea, reduced milk yield.  Abortion rate may reach 85% in the herd.
Lambs -fever, weakness, death within 36 hours.Adult sheep and goats : fever, nasal discharge, vomiting.
Humans  – flu-like symptoms.  Recovery within 4-7 days.  Complications include eye disease and blindness, and several serious diseases possibly leading to death.
Death rate Cattle  -low in adults (less than 10%), high in calves (10-70%).
Lambs under 1 week of age -up to 90%; over 1 week of age — up to 20%.
Adult sheep -in pregnant ewes, abortion may reach 100% and mortality may reach 20-30%.

Rinderpest is a viral disease that affects cattle, zebus, water buffaloes and many species of wild animals including African buffalo, eland, kudu, wildebeest, antelope, bushpigs, warthogs, and giraffes. It also affects sheep, goats, and pigs (especially Asian pigs). It is transmitted through direct or close indirect contact with infected animals.

Where the disease occurs -Central Africa, the Middle East, southwestern and central Asia.
Symptoms Cattle: For the first 2-3 days there is fever with depression, reduced chewing, increased breathing and heart rate, congestion and abundant salivation. When the fever drops, there is bloody diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain, weakness and death within 8-12 days. In some young animals, high fever and perhaps congested mucous membranes is followed quickly by death.
In sheep and goats: fever and diarrhea.
In pigs : fever, conjunctivitis and death.
Prevention and treatment -Vaccines offer long-term and perhaps life-long immunity, but annual revaccination is recommended to ensure that a high percentage of animals in a given area are immunized. There is no treatment.
Death rate -High with some strains of the disease, variable with others.


Anthrax is a bacterial disease that primarily affects cattle, sheep, goats, horses, swine and humans, though all mammals may be susceptible to some degree. It is transmitted through waterways, insects, wild animals and birds, and wastes of infected animals.  Animals are usually infected when they consume contaminated food or water. Grazing animals are most commonly infected during very dry conditions when they must graze close to the soil and they pick up the spores or following a flood when spores are washed up onto grass stems. The disease can also be transmitted when animals come into contact with infected bonemeal, urine and manure, and the tissue and body fluids of infected carcasses. Humans are infected primarily when spores from an infected animal come into direct contact with a break in the skin, such as a cut. (Note: The kind of anthrax that has recently caused concern with respect to bioterrorism is either pulmonary anthrax — infection through inhalation or cutaneous anthrax from exposure through an open cut in the skin.)

Where the disease occurs – Worldwide.
Symptoms Cattle and sheep -fever, muscle tremors, respiratory distress, and convulsions.  Death occurs within 24 hours of exposure.
Horses and related animals: If due to oral intake, similar to cattle. If due to insect bite, localized hot, painful swellings under the skin at the bite location that spread to the throat, lower neck, abdomen, genitals and mammary glands. High fever and laboured or difficult breathing are possible.
Swine, dogs and cats : swelling of the neck causing laboured breathing, and difficulty swallowing. There can be severe inflammation of the intestines.
Prevention and treatment -There is an effective vaccine.
Death rate -From 2-80%, depending on the bacterial species and route of infection.

Rabies is a viral infection that can affect all mammals, including humans. It is transmitted through close contact with saliva from infected animals, through bites, scratches, licks on broken skin and mucous membranes.

Where the disease occurs -Worldwide.
Symptoms -Initial symptoms involve the respiratory, abdominal and/or nervous systems. At a later stage, there can be hyperactivity (furious rabies) or paralysis (dumb rabies). In both furious and dumb rabies, there is a progression to complete paralysis followed by coma and death. Without intensive care, death occurs during the first seven days of illness. Care must be taken with all wild animals, as some carry the virus and show no symptoms. Report all bites and possible exposure to a physician and carefully watch all animals that caused the exposure.
Prevention and treatment Humans  -Wash and flush the wound or point of contact with soap and water, detergent or plain water, followed by an application of ethanol, and tincture or aqueous solution of iodine. Public health officials should give vaccine for some types of exposures. Anti-tetanus treatment and other drugs are sometimes given for secondary infections. As dogs and catsare the prime sources of rabies infection, all dogs and cats in areas where rabies is continuously present should be vaccinated. (Rabies is usually fatal in animals.)

Trypanosomosis (tse-tse fly transmitted)
Trypanosomosis is a parasitic disease that affects a wide range of mammals, but is especially serious with cattle.  It is transmitted by tse-tse flies, and to a lesser extent, by other biting flies.  Humans can also be affected, as the bites of certain kinds of tse-tse flies can cause sleeping sickness.

Where the disease occurs -Sub-Saharan Africa, South America.
Symptoms -High temperature, weakness, swollen glands, pale mucous membranes, loss of appetite, weight loss, abortion and infertility both in male and female animals.
Prevention and treatment -Prevention is through control of the tse-tse fly. Certain medications are also effective in reducing the symptoms, but must be used carefully according to directions.
Death rate -In severe cases in ruminants, the death rate is high. In less severe cases it is lower but animals are more easily subject to relapse.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease also known as contagious abortion. It affects a wide variety of animals, including sheep, goats, cattle, deer, elk, pigs, dogs, and humans. It is transmitted by direct contact with infected animals or by contact with aborted fetuses. It discharges from the uterus of infected animals, during mating, through maternal milk and possibly through airborne transmission. Humans can catch the disease when in contact with infected animals or animal products, including milk. The human form of the disease is called undulant fever.

Where the disease occurs -Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa, South and Central America, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Symptoms Animals: There is no effective way to detect infected animals from their appearance. The most obvious signs in pregnant animals are abortion, birth of weak calves, and vaginal discharges. Other signs include decreased fertility with poor conception rates, retained afterbirths with infections of the uterus, and enlarged, arthritic joints.
Humans -Flu-like symptoms including fever, sweating, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. Can also cause severe infections of the central nervous systems or of the lining of the heart, and chronic fevers, joint pain, and fatigue.
Prevention and treatment -Animals: There is no effective treatment. Vaccination provides protection.  Humans: Drug therapy. Recovery may take a few weeks to several months.
Death rate -Animals: High level of abortion. Minimal death rate in adults.  Humans: Less than 2%.

East Coast fever
This is a parasitic disease transmitted by three different kinds of ticks.  It mainly affects cattle.

Where the disease occurs -Central and Eastern Africa.
Symptoms -fever, anemia, jaundice, weight loss, reduction in milk, swelling of lymph nodes, difficulty in breathing, abortion and death.
Prevention and Treatment -Prevention is through control of ticks, usually by the use of pesticides. Vaccination provides treatment, though the vaccinated animals may become carriers.
Death rate -High in unvaccinated cattle.


Contributed by Vijay Cuddeford, Toronto, Canada. Reviewed by Terry S. Wollen, DVM, Coordinator of Animal Health, Heifer International. Field Address: Heifer Nepal, Arun Tole, Satdobato, Lalitpur 15 Nepal.

Information sources

Rabies, World Health Organization Fact Sheet No. 99, June 2001.  World Health Organization, Marketin and Dissemination, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Tel:  +41 22 791 24 76, Fax: +41 22 791 48 57
Anthrax, Veterinary Services Factsheet, October 2001. United States Department of Agriculture. For copies phone,  (301) 734-7799
Catalogue of diseases, Office International Des Epizooties, 12 rue de Prony 75017 Paris, France.  Tel:  +33 (0)1 44 15 18 88,  Fax: +33 (0)1 42 67 09 87,  E-mail: oie@oie.int
Manual of standards for diagnostic tests and vaccines, 4th edition, 2000.  Office Internationale Des Epizooties, 12 rue de Prony 75017 Paris, France.  Tel:  +33 (0)1 44 15 18 88,  Fax: +33 (0)1 42 67 09 87,oie@oie.int

Facts about brucellosis, United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Programs, 4700 River Road, Unit 43, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231. Tel:  (301) 734-6954

Ticks and tick-borne diseases. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy. Tel: (39 6) 570 52267,  Fax: (39 6) 570 56799,  E-mail: Farming-Systems@fao.org