A number of confirmed cases of lung worm in calves has prompted SRUC to urge farmers to check stock for signs of infection.

SRUC Vet Services recommend keeping a look out for cattle with mild to moderate coughing and a higher breathing rate, which are symptoms of lungworm. Young stock are particularly vulnerable as they are yet to built up an immunity to the parasite. More severe cases will show animals heavily mouth breathing, tongue sticking out or being found dead.

Studies have shown that the cost of lungworm is estimated at £50-100 per head due to a reduction in growth rates with obvious higher costs when deaths occur. Prevention of lungworm infection can be achieved with a vaccination (Bovilis Huskvac, MSD Animal Health) or strategic wormer use. Farmers should consult with their vet to avoid wormer resistance through regular usage.

The oral vaccine contains irradiated L3 Dictocaulus viviparus larvae which cannot develop into adults but do migrate and trigger an immune response. Since the vaccine contains live larvae it is important to avoid wormer use for two weeks after vaccination. Calves can be vaccinated from eight weeks of age onwards, with two doses given four weeks apart at least two weeks before animals have access to pasture.

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Tim Geraghty said: “As with many diseases, early detection rapidly increases the chances of survival. Young animals are at more risk but no animal is risk free. They do need some exposure to build up immunity but if there are signs of coughing or fast breathing then a problem infection could be present. Speak to your vet as soon as you think there could be a problem, and discuss faecal sampling to confirm the infection, immediate treatment which is likely to be worming the batch of animals and use of the vaccine to reduce risk in future.”

Lung worm larvae are passed in faeces, mature on the grass and then are grazed back into the animal. Over the summer exposure to the parasite increases as the lung worms increase on pastures. Research has also shown that lungworm larvae can jump up to three meters through airborne fungal spores.