Vet Watch
Welcome to the April edition of Vet Watch for 2016

Traditionally, efforts to detect exotic disease in Australia have focused on production animals (including poultry and aquaculture species) and horses. This is due, in part to the widespread socio-economic effects that will be associated with disease in these largely export-oriented industries. However, recently, with the first confirmed diagnosis in Australia of Ehrlichia canis in an imported dog (see the article in this edition) and previous cases of Leishmaniasis and of Babesia gibsoni, the potential for entry of a serious exotic disease in companion animals has been highlighted. The Chief Veterinary Officer’s Unit is working closely with staff at the Post-Entry Quarantine facility at Mickleham to minimize the risk of entry of exotic disease in imported companion animals and the list of notifiable diseases in Victoria will be expanded to include more exotic diseases that primarily affect dogs or cats. This is where you come in ... as a clinician you may be the first veterinary professional who is consulted about an unwell pet with a previously unrecognised or exotic disease condition.  

Think about exotic diseases and include them in your differential diagnosis list, particularly for imported animals and those that have been in indirect or direct contact with imported companion animals. All veterinarians, even those who only see small animals, are an essential part of our surveillance network. 
Thanks to all who responded to a recent survey of the new content and layout of VetWatch. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with plenty of suggestions for additional sections that we will work to incorporate into future editions. If you missed the deadline for this survey, please continue to forward comments at any time to or contact Jaimie Hunnam (Principal Veterinary Officer - Epidemiology) on (03) 9217  4351.
Animal health  and   welfare  information for  Victorian veterinary practitioners  is  available at VetSource 
  Submitting samples to the laboratory. 
It is essential that veterinarians supply as much information as possible when submitting samples for testing. Detailed information allows the pathologist to provide you with the most accurate interpretation of results, whilst also  enabling Agriculture Victoria to respond effectively in the event of a serious or exotic animal disease event. It is not uncommon for samples to be submitted to laboratories lacking the most basic of information (see below). If insufficient information has been provided on a submission form for a Significant Disease Information, you will be contacted by Departmental animal health staff to complete all required details.
When submitting samples, please remember to include the following:
  • the submission date
  • the PIC
  • the owner name and contact details
  • the veterinarian’s contact details
  • the sample collection date
  • details of the sick and at risk animals including species, signs and symptoms
  • tests required
  • provisional diagnosis


A real sample submission sheet highlighting fields that did not contain required information

Quarterly Stats: Around the State
  Summary of all animal disease investigations recorded by Agriculture Victoria from 1st January 2016 to 31st March 2016, inclusive.
To have  a closer look at the disease investigations undertaken in your region, by species, between January
2016  and  March 2016,  please click on the link below:

Gippsland Region
North east Region
North west Region
South west Region


Hot Topics
  A Victorian long, hard summer and Blue green algae
Karen Moore (Senior Surveillance Officer – Epidemiology) Chief Veterinary Officer’s Unit; DEDJTR
Make sure your district animal health staff are notified of all cases of sudden death in livestock so emergency animal diseases can be excluded.

Victoria has experienced serious blue-green algae (BGA) blooms in the Murray and Loddon River systems this year. BGA are microscopic bacteria that reproduce rapidly in nutrient-rich, warm water over 200C to form a bloom. As BGA releases a number of toxins that are poisonous to humans, animals and fish, affected water is unsafe for recreational or agricultural use, including irrigation.

Ruminants and birds tend to be more sensitive to BGA toxins than monogastrics. However, dogs will be affected due to their preference for swimming and drinking contaminated water. Clinical signs in livestock will vary depending on the strains of BGA present and the level of toxin accessed, with only a small amount needing to be ingested. Signs may include muscle tremors, respiratory distress, convulsions, and sudden death (potentially large numbers of stock) in the vicinity of affected water sources. Liver function may also be affected, leading to decreased appetite, behavioural changes, jaundice and photosensitivity. Apparently unaffected or recovered animals may continue to die over a number of months. Mild cases of algal poisoning may cause productivity losses, with a loss of appetite and consequent decline in milk yield in dairy cattle.

Gross findings may include green algal staining around the mouth, legs and/or feet or clumps of green algae in the upper gastrointestinal tract. While hepatotoxins will cause hepatic necrosis, widespread haemorrhages and plasma transudates in body cavities, there are often no significant findings at post mortem if death was due to neurotoxins.
Diagnosis is based primarily on history, clinical signs and necropsy findings, alongside testing of the water demonstrating significant numbers of BGA. There are no specific antidotes for BGA toxicity so preventing contact is paramount. Stock must be moved to an alternative safe water source as soon as possible.
Use this newsletter grab to highlight the risk of blue-green algal poisoning to your farming clients
There are a number of resources available to assist farmers to manage blooms and develop plans in the event that water availability becomes limited.

Small animals and exotic diseases: our quiet over-achieversKaren Moore (Senior Surveillance Officer – Epidemiology) Chief Veterinary Officer’s Unit; DEDJTR
Victorian veterinarians should always consider the possibility of rare or emerging diseases in small animals, particularly if there is evidence of recent importation or travel through areas known to be infected with diseases exotic to Australia.
Biosecurity is no laughing matter in Australia, as evidenced by the recent fracas around the illegal importation of “Boo” and “Pistol” (Johnny Depp’s Yorkshire terriers). Strict importation conditions have been developed to maintain Australia’s free status in regards to a range of diseases and pests. In Victoria recently, companion animals have been well represented in the diagnosis of exotic animal disease. Over the last 15 years, the Chief Veterinary Officer’s unit in Victoria has investigated cases of Babesia gibsoni, (2001), Leishmania infantum (2013) and Ehrlichia canis (2016). In addition, a case of Leishmaniasis in an imported dog was reported in New South Wales in late 2015.

Babesia gibsoni

In 2001, a pit bull terrier presented with lethargy, abdominal pain, splenomegaly and mucosal pallor. Haematology revealed a regenerative anaemia with spherocytosis consistent with immune- mediated red cell destruction and a moderate number of erythrocyte parasites of ring-like configuration. These were considered similar but not typical of the usual red cell parasites recognized in Australia (i.e. Haemobartonella canis; Babesia canis) and Babesia gibsoni was diagnosed.
Shortly after, litter-mates presented with similar clinical signs and red blood cell parasites, the family of dogs reportedly had no recent history of overseas travel or importation, but the investigators working in the case hypothesized that the source was an imported dog that they could not identify. The dogs recovered following immunosuppressive and tetracycline therapy, although successful elimination of the organisms is rarely achieved following therapy.
This is the only recorded report of B. gibsoni in Australia. Canine babesiosis in Australia is caused by B. canis vogeli; a less virulent form. Babesiosis caused by B. gibsoni is more chronic than that produced by B canis and parasitaemia is often undetectable. There are over 100 species of Babesia but only a few have been documented to be pathogenic in humans and there has been only been one published report of human babesiosis in Australia.
Leishmania infantum
In 2014, a case of leishmaniasis was investigated in a breeding dog that had been imported from Spain in 2013. The dog was test-negative prior to import and was not detected during the standard quarantine period (Note: the incubation period for leishmania can range from 1 month to seven years). The dog first presented with unilateral epistaxis and a mild anaemia. One month later, a lymphadenopathy, hyperglobulinaemia and non-regenerative anaemia were identified and L. infantum was diagnosed based on a bone marrow aspirate. Treatment was initially attempted but the dog was subsequently euthanized. All dogs that had been mated to or had long-term contact with the infected dog, within and external to Victoria, were tested for L. infantum using IFAT and/or PCR, with no further cases identified.
Leishmaniasis is a protozoal disease caused by various Leishmania spp., transmitted primarily by phlebotomine sandflies. Dogs are the primary reservoir for L. infantum, but infection has been detected overseas in cats, horses, pigs and a variety of wild mammal and marsupial species. Leishmaniasis is zoonotic with transmission to humans via infected sandflies and resulting in potentially very severe disease. Although L. infantum is exotic to Australia, between 2000 and 2015, there have been several diagnoses of Leishmaniasis in a number of states, all in imported dogs. The clinical presentation is variable with both cutaneous and visceral signs evident and may include lymphadenopathy, anorexia, weight loss, lethargy, splenomegaly, anaemia, polyuria, polydipsia, lameness, vomiting, and cutaneous lesions, such as dermatitis or alopecia.
Ehrlichia canis
In early 2016, a dog imported from Malaysia was diagnosed with E. canis whilst in quarantine. The dog had arrived in Australia with compliant health certification papers and, prior to export, had reportedly been treated twice with a broad-use insecticide. A pre-import blood sample had tested negative for Brucella canis, E. canis and Leishmania infantum. On arrival, Post Entry Quarantine facility staff noted a heavy infestation of brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). The dog and all in-contact dogs and environs were treated with an insecticide. A blood sample collected from the dog was positive for E. canis and the owner chose to euthanase the affected dog.
There have been no previous confirmed or published diagnoses of E. canis infection in Australia. Clinical Ehrlichiosis is predominantly a disease of dogs but there have been a few human cases reported overseas, all associated with exposure to ticks. The acute phase, which lasts 2-4 weeks, is characterized by fever, serous nasal and ocular discharges, anorexia, lethargy and weight loss. The chronic phase shows marked pancytopenia, haemorrhage, peripheral oedema and emaciation, with secondary bacterial infections.

Free-range Pigs: Change the ecology, change the disease 
Grant Rawlin (Research Leader – Veterinary Pathobiology) AgriBio, Centre for AgriBioScience; DEDJTR
The expansion of free-range pigs onto uncultivated agricultural land resulted in a new syndrome recently identified by pathologists at AgriBio

Recently, an interesting case that had both pathologists and field staff scratching their heads, turned out to be a fatal disease that was caused by a new trend in animal husbandry: grazing of free-range pigs on uncultivated land.

A District Veterinary Officer (DVO) in the North-east got a call from a farmer who had free-range pigs for fun, lifestyle and profit. Although the most recent batch of growers had initially done well, almost the whole group (n=12) were now blind and trembling or dead, which was definitely Significant Disease Investigation (SDI) territory.
On examination, many pigs were ‘dog sitting’, trembling or had a stilted gait, while some had urinary incontinence and dribbled constantly. Differentials included bacteria, viruses, nutritional problems or toxins. The DVO delivered one of the pigs down to the lab at Bundoora so we could have a good look while it was still alive.
Various cultures and testing of blood yielded little, steering us away from infectious causes. Tests for lead were negative. On histopathological examination, there was advanced neuronal degeneration in the optic nerve, as well as in the white matter of the cerebellum, cerebrum and spinal cord.
Blind grass poisoning in cattle presents in the same way and is caused by a toxin called stypandrol. However, Stypandra grass is not local to the area, nor has its poisoning been reported in pigs. The farmer had recently moved the pigs onto a new paddock right at the edge of a forest and, despite the amount of damage the pigs had done to the area, a botanist was able to identify about 30 species of native and introduced trees, shrubs and grasses. A literature search identified Dianella reflexa (blue berry flax) as a possible culprit. It was thought not to be toxic to cattle but was known to have some stypandrol toxin in the rhizome under the ground. Cattle do not eat the rhizomes, but pigs dig them up and eat them with apparent (but short-lived) delight.

Diagnosis: Severe Neuropathy caused by Dianella reflexa poisoning.

Use this newsletter grab to highlight the risk of grass poisoning in free range pigs to your farming clients.

AI exclusion on a Victorian free-range poultry farm
Yonatal Segal (Principal  Veterinary Officer – Poultry and Emerging Diseases) Chief Veterinary Officer’s Unit; DEDJTR
An example of an investigation to exclude an emergency animal disease by one of the Department’s Principal Veterinary Officers
In early March, the department was notified by the local veterinarian of increased bird mortality combined with paralysis in a 6,000 bird free-range egg farm located north of Melbourne. The veterinarian was concerned that the illness may have been due to Avian-influenza (AI) or Newcastle disease (NDV). The carcasses of three hens were submitted to the AgriBio laboratory for analysis and the Principal Veterinary Officer (Poultry and Emerging Diseases) subsequently visited the farm to assess the situation.
The  hens had been introduced onto the site, an old, unused pig farm, only two months before the disease event unfolded. The hens were placed in old pig sheds with free access to the range area. Only birds housed in one of the three sheds were affected, with a death rate of approximately twenty birds per day. The birds presented with spastic paralysis of the legs and neck. No respiratory signs were observed.  Egg production was significantly reduced and there was a deterioration in the quality of eggs’ shell and yolk colour (see image). Based on the clinical and pathological observations, AI and NDV were considered unlikely, with these provisional exclusions later confirmed on PCR for both diseases.

With AI and NDV ruled out, the possibility of some form of intoxication, particularly from the feed was suspected. Investigations are still underway as to the possibility that broiler feed, medicated with an anti-coccidial drug of the ionophore group, was mistakenly delivered to these laying hens. These drugs have a narrow range of safety and it is sometimes difficult to ensure an even distribution throughout the feed. Egg-laying birds are known to be more susceptible to ionophore intoxication.

The final results of this EAD investigation will be provided in the next edition of VetWatch.

Awareness of Mycobacterium ulcerans (Bairnsdale ulcer) in possums
 Pam Whiteley (Epidemiology & Australian Wildlife); Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria; Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne
Use appropriate precautions when handling possums, as skin ulcers caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans are a zoonotic risk.
Possums with skin ulcers and scabs can have Mycobacterium ulcerans (Bairnsdale or Buruli Ulcer) infections. These infections have been observed in possums located in and around Melbourne, including the Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas. The bacteria can also cause serious skin lesions and disease in people. Although originally considered an environmental bacterium the identification of possums as a potential reservoir suggest a zoonotic potential1. The method of transmission to people is not known, but probably involves skin damage.
  Please consider potential zoonotic risks and wildlife animal welfare (duration of treatment required) when treating possums with lesions such as this (see image). There also may be risks of treated animals developing antibiotic resistant Mycobacterium infections.

This infection is an example of why it is important that wildlife are only released into the area in which they were found, thus limiting its spread from the current locations.  
Differential diagnoses include: traumatic skin ulcers, other mycobacterial and infectious skin ulcers, mites etc.
PCR and biopsy/histopathology are likely the best ways to make a clinical diagnosis.
Further information on this condition is available on the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website:
1Roltgen, K and Plushke G (2015) Mycobacterium ulcerans Disease (Buruli Ulcer): Potential
Reservoirs and Vectors. Curr Clin Micro Rpt. 2:35–43. DOI 10.1007/s40588-015-0013-3

District Veterinary Officer Case Study:
Photosensitization due to panic grass in adult ewes
Ian Holmes (District Veterinary Officer – Benalla)  ASBO; DEDJTR
Panic grasses (Panicum spp.) recently caused a fatal hepatopathy and photosensitization on three different properties near Euroa after late summer rains in north-east Victoria. Thirty out of 150 adult Merino ewes, which were also exposed to heliotrope (Heliotropium spp.), three out of 170 adult crossbred ewes and 20 out of 140 adult Merino ewes died. There were also anecdotal reports of other flocks experiencing photosensitivity and deaths in the lower plains district.
Sudden death can occur from severe hepatopathy associated with saponins which can be detected as birefringent crystals within bile canaliculi. Further mortalities result from severe secondary photosensitization and/or nephrosis. This syndrome is well recognized in Australia where Panicum species are commonly grown in native pastures. There are over thirty different species of panic grasses in Australia, many of them are very similar and hard to distinguish. Common names include “windmill-”, “fairy-” and “witch-grass”. Toxicity is more common with young, rapidly growing plants, with photosensitization seen in stressed, young sheep. High chlorophyll from the lush pasture results in the photodynamic phylloerythrin by-product being unable to be excreted by the damaged liver into the intestines. The damaged liver often leads to jaundice, hence the common names of “yellows” or, if associated with photosensitivity and oedema, “yellow big-head”.

Although panic grasses are excellent feed, it is recommended that producers dilute the toxic pasture by feeding supplements such as hay. Other plant species that can cause similar crystal hepatopathy are caltrop (Tribulis terrestris), and signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens). This case highlights the dangers of potential toxicities resulting from new growth of plants and weeds following summer rains when stock are hungry.
Financial losses to these producers has not yet been ascertained due to the potential for long-term liver damage and subsequent effects on productivity.

AgriBio – Pathology Case Studies
  AgriBio Pathology Rounds with a real-time discussion of case studies, including evaluation of histopathological slides, have recommenced. Interactive webcast sessions are held on Wednesday at 3 pm and run for 30-45 minutes. History, gross findings, histopathology and other relevant lab data are presented for 3-4 diagnostic cases.
Live broadcast details:
Please join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Use your microphone and speakers (VOIP) for audio. You'll sound best with a headset.
Recorded sessions:
Instructions for playback: use Firefox or Internet Explorer 11 (not Google Chrome) and choose HD quality from settings at the bottom right of the video.

Across the Nation  and Around the World…
  Koala given all-clear after new chlamydia vaccine
Historical (2012) Calcivirus infection on rabbit farm report
Fungal outbreak in eastern Australia causes dairy cattle deaths and severe loss of production
Blood in Mosquito’s Belly could reveal how diseases spread
Get your hands on a Goat National Kid Rearing Plan
Two months until new biosecurity legislation commences
Operation targeting dangerous imported food products concludes

Scientist have discovered a new herpes virus in bats that could infect humans

Surveillance for Zika virus infection (World Health Organization)

Highly pathogenic avian influenza watch

USDA Confirms Highly Pathogenic H7N8 Avian Influenza in a Commercial Turkey Flock in Dubois County, Indiana 

OIE member countries official  HPAI outbreak map (above) January 2016 – April 2016.
FMD Watch
Foot and  mouth disease outbreaks continue to occur in parts of Africa and Asia (January 2016 to April
OIE member countries’ official  FMD outbreak map (above) and distribution map (below), April  2016. Source: World Animal Health Information Database (WAHID)

For more information of the latest disease outbreaks across the globe, please visit:

Training Opportunities 
  Applications are now invited for students wishing to commence the online Master of Veterinary Public Health (Emergency Animal Diseases), Diploma or Certificate programs at the University of Melbourne from July.
These degrees aim to prepare veterinarians, animal scientists and animal health workers so that they can contribute effectively in emergency animal disease responses, both in Australia and internationally.
Applications close 12 June, 2016. For full details of course structure, fees and entry requirements please see:
Expressions of interest may be lodged at any time to study a subject on an individual basis without enrolling in a degree program. Upcoming subjects include:
  • Selection and Interpretation of Laboratory tests in an EAD context, 2 week residential from 11 to 22 July 2016, at the Parkville campus of the Faculty of Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne, with specific training activities at AgriBio the Victorian State government veterinary laboratory and CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).
  • Structure and Function of Control Centres, a 10 week online subject on the structure and management of responses, starting 25 July, written and facilitated by Drs Keith McCubbin and Ron Glanville, both with years of experience in senior biosecurity roles in the Queensland government.
  • Communication in Disease Emergencies, 10 week online subject, starting 8 August 2016, designed to assist students to develop their skills in effective communication and working with the media. Facilitated by communications expert Caroline McCann.
  • EAD1 (Transboundary Animal Diseases), a 10 week online subject, starting 3 October, focussed on the technical aspects (pathogenesis, epidemiology, diagnosis, control and lessons from historical outbreaks) of FMD and the vesicular diseases, the swine fevers, PPR and PRRS.

Agriculture Victoria

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