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Bleeding Calf Syndrome - Update

Bleeding Calf Syndrome, (also known as Bovine Neonatal Pancytopenia), is a new disease of calves. It was first noticed in the UK in spring 2009 and has been seen across Europe. To date over 200 farms in the UK have had cases of bleeding calf syndrome, and over 2000 calves have died of the disease across Europe. Since this is obviously of great concern to farmers, the Moredun Research Institute is committed to unravelling the mystery of this new disease.

Bleeding Calf Syndrome has been seen on both beef and dairy farms and has affected many different cattle breeds. Most affected farms have only had a small number of cases (one or two per farm) but on some farms larger outbreaks have been seen. Unfortunately there is very little that can be done to treat a calf with bleeding calf syndrome, and most cases die a few days after symptoms start.

Calves show signs of the disease at less than one month old. Typically they show symptoms of bleeding e.g. nose bleeds and bloody faeces and have a high fever. However sometimes the bleeding is internal, and calves are found weak or collapsed, or sometimes just found dead.

In the UK a group of vets and scientists from Moredun, Edinburgh Vet School, the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) have been working together to investigate this new condition. So far scientists have discovered that the bleeding is due to a lack of platelets in the calf’s blood. Platelets are essential for blood clotting, so without them even the slightest scratch or knock leads to bleeding that won’t stop. Platelets are produced by the bone marrow, and the group have found that the bone marrow from these calves has been almost completely destroyed. 

The cause of the bone marrow destruction remains a mystery. Extensive investigations have been done at the Moredun to check whether a virus might be causing the damage, but no viruses have been found. On current evidence we don’t believe that the disease is infectious, and there is certainly no sign that it poses any threat to people.

With no signs of this disease abating, Moredun has invested some of its own money, through The Moredun Foundation Innovation Fund, in order to investigate this condition further. One of our current lines of investigation is the relationship between the calf and its mother. There is growing evidence to suggest that the disorder may be linked to the period immediately following birth, and might be associated with the calf suckling the first milk (colostrum). Moredun and University of Edinburgh are jointly funding work to investigate this further and to try and establish exactly how the bone marrow damage occurs in these calves. Hopefully results from this project will provide more information soon about how we can prevent this worrying condition.

For more information about Moredun's research into Bleeding Calf Syndrome click here

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Printed from on 22/07/17 01:31:07 AM

Moredun is committed to promoting animal health and welfare through research and education and is recognized worldwide for its contribution to research into infectious diseases of farmed livestock.