Heartwater – Tick-borne disease

Heartwater is transmitted to cattle, goats and sheep by infected bont ticks.

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Symptoms include fever, nervousness, difficulty in walking, high stepping and unusual behaviour such as walking into fences, circling, falling down and convulsions with pedalling and chewing movements.

Fluid in the belly, chest and the sac surrounding the heart, swelling of the brain with fluid, froth in airways and fluid in the lungs are observed postmortem. A brain smear is needed to confirm heartwater, as fluid in the lungs can resemble other causes of death, such as bluetongue.

A live vaccine is available, but must be used with caution as it can cause the disease. Discuss vaccination with a vet. Avoid vaccinating pregnant animals, as this may result in abortion.

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Source: Jenny Turton (undated). ‘Important tick-borne diseases in ruminants. Directorate Communication’, National Department of Agriculture and ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute.