Three day sickness

Mosquitoes and biting midges can spread the viral disease known as three day sickness, or bovine ephemeral fever, to cattle and occasionally buffalo. Stock are often sick for three days, hence the name ‘three day sickness’.

The disease occurs in northern Australia and along the eastern seaboard south and can extend to the New South Wales–Victoria border. Animals can be affected in the wet and dry season, but colder temperatures usually restrict the vector. There were outbreaks in July 2016 on properties in the Darwin region.

Figure 7. Three day sickness distribution (Source: Animal Health Australia)

Figure 7. Three day sickness distribution (Source: Animal Health Australia)

Three day sickness is more likely to occur in:

  • young stock, because once infected they generally have lifelong immunity
  • stock that live in northern areas of Australia
  • areas that have had big wet seasons, especially if it follows several dry years as the disease may then affect older stock that have not been exposed to three day sickness.

Clinical signs of three day sickness

Clinical signs that would lead producers to suspect three day sickness include the following:

  • lagging behind the mob at muster
  • depression
  • lameness, muscle stiffness, shivering, twitching, droopy ears
  • drooling saliva, watery eyes, runny nose
  • recumbency
  • reduced water and food intake
  • abortion.

Note: Heavier and older animals are more severely affected because long periods of recumbency leads to muscle damage. Contact your private or government veterinarians or livestock biosecurity officer to report the sick animals and arrange collection of blood samples for diagnosis at Berrimah Veterinary Laboratory.

Figure 8. Three day sickness

Figure 8. Three day sickness

Treatment of three day sickness

Stock affected by three day sickness will generally recover within three to four days. Stock should be supplied with feed, water and shade until they recover and are to be positioned so they are resting on their brisket to prevent lung infections. Heavy animals should be rotated from side-to-side to prevent paralysis and pneumonia. Anti-inflammatory medications can assist with symptoms.

Prevention of three day sickness

The only prevention strategy available for three day sickness is vaccination. To achieve immunity to three day sickness, stock need to receive two doses of the vaccine. The second dose should be given two to four weeks after the initial dose. Immunity is not achieved if stock receive only one dose. This vaccine can be sourced only through a veterinarian.

More information

Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries AgNote: Three Day Sickness or Ephemeral Fever PDF (40.6 KB).

Meat and Livestock Australia. 2016. Three day sickness

Zoetis. Bovine Ephemeral Fever

Last updated: 23 September 2016

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