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Sweating sickness in calves

Mon, 14 October 2013 03:37
by Dr Baby

It is quite common to hear local farmers complain about a calf that sweats or whose body seems wet.
But experienced farmers have an idea about what causes the condition and thus know how to handle the sick calves.
On the other hand, some village farmers are under the impression the wetness is caused by drinking too much milk and hence, they withhold milk from the calves. As a result, the poor things rapidly lose weight and die because their owners’ ignorance.
Some of you might ask what the big deal is about an animal sweating and whether or not it is a normal body reaction in animals as it is in people. The answer is yes, sweating is a normal body reaction but here, we are talking about profuse sweating that makes the whole animal’s body wet, even when it is cold. Hence, there is nothing normal about it.
The sweating sickness - “omutjise wokurukutura” or “sweet siekte” - is common during spring and the rainy seasons, predominantly when ticks are in abundance. It only affects very young calves that become sick five to ten days after being bitten by ticks. The lame, popular  explanation is that some animals are ‘allergic’ to tick bites caused by the two-host bont-legged tick called Hyalloma truncatum.
This tick’s saliva produces a toxin to which an animal reacts when bitten by it. That’s why only some calves get sick, even though the rest of the herd might have been bitten by the ticks as well. Thus, this disease is not really an infection but a reaction to the poisoning through tick saliva.
Such incidences also occur in people who experience (anaphylactic) body shocks when bitten by, say, bees or ticks.
The most noticeable reaction in a sick calf is the head-to-toe wetness, as if water has been poured on the animal, hence the name; ‘sweating sickness’. Should you pull a strand of hair off the animal’s body, it would slough off easily (starting with the tips of ears and tail), exposing red, raw wound, which leaves the skin open for ulcerations and infections.
In the later stages of the disease, the skin becomes hard and cracked. Because of these skin problems, affected animals are sensitive to handling and show pain when moving.
The affected calves look scruffy, depressed and weak with high fever and do not feed or drink well. From my experience, the affected calves look as if they do not have mothers to take care of them. In Afrikaans, we would say, “Die kalf lyk vervaarloos”.
Other signs include the drooling of saliva from the mouth, watery eyes and nose, as well as redder gums than usual. This goes for the eyes and vulva areas too.
Although this disease does not kill calves in high numbers, if left untreated, about 30-40% of affected calves would die after two to seven days.
For treatment, the good old antibiotics, especially tetracycline (such as Terramycin, Swamycin, or Agramycin) help to control secondary bacterial infection so the animal can recover fast. If available, an anti-inflammatory injection can be given to reduce the fever, as well. I also recommend a dose of multi-minerals and multivitamins to boost the immune system for the animal to recover faster. It is also important to keep affected animals away from sunlight, as sunburns can easily cause sloughing of the wet hair. Apply wound oil or liquid paraffin all over the body to soothe the poor animal’s skin and prevent sloughing of the hair.
Some villagers believe covering sick calves with fresh cow dung every day helps them to heal. I do not necessarily get the rationale behind this but they swear by it. I may be convinced if only fresh dung was given repeatedly to avoid dryness of the skin. Some farmers also give a liter of “tombo” (traditional home grown beer) to treat the sick calves.
Village farmers also inject the sick animals with methylated spirit. But since this is not a prescribed medicine, sometimes I wonder how, in the world, they come up with the correct doses! I guess it is by trial and error. Interesting what village farmers can do to heal their sick animals.
Finally, it won’t help to separate the sick animal from the rest in a bid to prevent further infection, because for an animal to be infected with the sweating sickness, there has to be a tick bite. Thus, the sickness can fortunately be controlled by controlling the ticks. Hence, familiarise yourself with a good tick control programme suitable for your area and type of farming (as we have discussed before). And please, do not withhold milk from a calf suffering from the disease.