Bacterial outbreak hits Southland

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2013

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Thousands of Southland and Otago sheep have died on dozens of farms from a bacterial outbreak.

Salmonella brandenburg is a bacterial infection which causes abortions in late pregnancy and illness and death in some ewes.

It is of the same family as salmonella hindmarsh which caused depression and severe diarrhoea killing hundreds of sheep earlier this year.

Clutha Vets Animal Health Centre veterinarian John Smart said he knew of up to 30 farms affected by salmonella brandenburg around Balclutha, which was more than last year.

Hundreds of ewes had been affected with one farmer having 10 to 15 of his ewes aborting each day for a period of about two weeks.

However, some farmers did not report cases making reported figures a "gross under representation", he said.

More cases are expected during lambing next month.

Gore VetSouth veterinarian Joel Hughes said the number of reported cases was "not out of the ordinary". Mr Hughes said he dealt with about 12 affected farms and hundreds of affected sheep.

"It could well be going rampant but we don't get told about it. We hear about 20 per cent of cases in the area," he said.

Cases that veterinarians knew about were "the tip of the iceberg", he said.

VetSouth director Mark Bryan said hundreds of sheep on about 20 farms around Winton had been affected.

The number of cases was slightly higher than last year, he said.

A wintry blast forecast tomorrow could place extra stress on ewes and worsen their reaction to the bacteria, he said.

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Marion Poore said there had been six cases of salmonella brandenburg in humans this year.

"Each month we expect to be notified of a number cases of salmonella. So far this year there have been 104 confirmed cases of salmonella in the district, including six that have been identified as salmonella brandenburg. This is in line with the same point in previous years," she said.

This time last year there had been 92 cases of salmonella reported, with five being salmonella brandenburg, Dr Poore said.

It was important people remembered basic hygiene and infection control both at home and on the farm.

The key was to wash and dry hands frequently, especially before preparing food, she said.

SALMONELLA BRANDENBURG AT A GLANCE

  • It is a bacteria spread by direct contact with aborted foetuses or by ingestion of contaminated feed.
  • Causes abortion in ewes in late pregnancy and kills about half of the affected ewes.
  • Black backed gulls can also spread the bacteria from one farm to another.
  • It can survive in the environment for four plus months.
  • It can be identified by aborted foetuses that are putrid, and dead or sick ewes.
  • Antibiotics can prevent ewe death but will not prevent abortion.
  • Vaccinations early in pregnancy can prevent abortion. It can spread from animals to humans.
  • Prevented in humans by basic hygiene such as washing hands when preparing food. Source: VetSouth

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