Group to study leptospirosis risk

Press Release – Massey University

Massey University veterinary researchers have joined an action group tasked with gaining a greater understanding of leptospirosis and its effect on the New Zealand agricultural industry.Monday, March 5, 2012
Group to study leptospirosis risk

Massey University veterinary researchers have joined an action group tasked with gaining a greater understanding of leptospirosis and its effect on the New Zealand agricultural industry.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects livestock and other animals and can be transmitted to humans. In people, infection can result in severe illness and in some cases death. Leptospirosis occurs more frequently in humans in New Zealand than in any other country where it is notifiable.

The Farmer Leptospirosis Action Group is funded by the Government’s Sustainable Farming Fund, Agmardt and industry stakeholders. It has contracted Massey researchers to find out if leptospirosis affects productivity.

Associate Professor Cord Heuer, of Massey’s EpiCentre, says recent research by Professor Peter Wilson of Massey’s Deer Research Unit has proven that the disease has a discernable effect on profitability in deer farming.

“Infection in deer herds has been shown to lead to up to a 6.4kg lower average live weight at slaughter and up to a 10 per cent reduction in weaning rate,” he says. “Disease control through vaccination has proven highly effective in eliminating those losses.”

Dairy and pig farmers already tend to implement control methods that presumably have caused a drastic reduction of human Leptospirosis since the 1990s and are thought to return sustainable benefits, Dr Heuer says.

“But at the moment there is no information about what benefit, if any, these measures might have for sheep and beef farmers,” he says. “We know that 97 per cent of adult sheep flocks and 97 per cent of beef breeding herds have evidence of infection, with more than 50 per cent of animals in New Zealand being antibody positive. What we don’t know is if there’s a productivity decline associated with the infection.”

Given the results from deer herds, Dr Heuer expects the findings could be similar for sheep and beef, but research will determine whether that is the case. “More conclusive evidence is needed for farmers to make an informed, science-based decision about leptospirosis control programmes for sheep and beef,” he says.

As well as research, the project is also focused on an extension programme that will engage stakeholders and disseminate scientific findings related to the disease through a series of field days and seminars. These will target farmers and farm workers, veterinarians, other rural workers, rural medical professionals and other stakeholders.

Group member Neville Haack says the group will hold regular farmer field days and also provide updated information for farmers when applicable. “But we will also enlist a number of demonstration farms that will provide information through blood testing and production monitoring.”

Mr Haack says a Leptospirosis website is also being developed with Rural Women New Zealand that will act as an information portal for the latest research and other updates from the group.

The Farmer Leptospirosis Action Group project team features representatives from Rural Women New Zealand, the Deer Farmers’ Association, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Veterinary Association.
ENDS

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