PARASITIC research conducted at the University of Salford could save the lives of five per cent of the UK lamb population resulting in a significant economic boost for the industry, according to researchers.

Postgraduate student Emma Morley investigated the importance of the transmission routes of ovine parasite Toxopllasma gondii – the cause of toxoplasmosis – within different mammalian groups.

Sheep Sheep: susceptible

The Perry Foundation scholarship recipient revealed: “Sheep are susceptible to the parasite, which can result in them losing a whole crop of lambs – but nobody has really studied it before.

“Toxoplasmosis is a threat to all warm-blooded animals and can be passed on through cat faeces. If it’s acquired in pregnancy, it can result in foetal infection, birth defects or even spontaneous abortion. That’s why sheep farmers are advised not to keep cats and expectant mothers are warned about emptying cat litter trays.”

The importance of the study, which was undertaken at the School of Environment and Life Sciences, was underlined by the financial backing from the foundation that funds research benefiting the farming industry.

Salford parasitologist Professor Geoff Hide also backed the research and explained that the research had shown that advice currently given to sheep farmers maybe responsible for increasing incidences of the disease rather than controlling it.

He said: “Emma’s research may have some significant impacts on sheep farming. Nearly five per cent of lambs are lost to toxoplasma in the UK so it’s of major economic importance as well as an important animal welfare issue.

“Farmers are advised to breed from ewes that have lost lambs to toxoplasma but Emma’s results show that what farmers should be doing is breeding from ewes that do not have the parasite,” he said.

Harry Waddle
Extract from Veterinary Times Vol.38, No.30

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