What are they?
Ticks can transmit diseases to livestock, dogs, humans and horses. These diseases include tick-borne fever, tick pyaemia, louping ill and babesiosis.
Why are they important?
Tick-borne diseases were scored as a priority syndrome by hill sheep producers in our disease/syndrome survey (2020-21) and were also identified as important in a survey by the APHA Centre of Excellence for Extensively Managed Livestock (COEEML).
The distribution of infected tick populations and habitats means that other sectors may be less affected or not impacted at all. Also, some sectors may not realise they’re affected based on historical tick distribution.
In tick-dense areas, production can be seriously impacted. Maintaining tick acclimatised flocks and breeding herds on tick-dense ground can be a crucial factor in reducing disease impact. However, this can be difficult to achieve and does not avoid problems in newly purchased animals, lambs and youngstock.
The level of tick activity and infection status can inform the use and management of grazing pastures, this may be supported by strategic tick control interventions. Recent studies suggest that it’s not only hill ground and rough grazing that have high tick numbers.
In defining the syndrome (including tick-borne fever, tick pyaemia, louping ill and babesiosis) as a high impact low prevalence priority, RH&W recognises the severe long-established challenges that ticks pose in defined locations. It also acknowledges the public health risks and potential changes in tick habitat, linked to land use and climate change.
Previously unaffected holdings are now being impacted by ticks and tick-borne diseases, and recent cases of disease in humans highlights the zoonotic risks posed by tick bites.
Climate change could also open the door to exotic tick species, and new or emerging tick-borne diseases establishing in the UK.
What are the actions?
Understanding the tick risk and potential disease challenges is the first step in tackling the impact. Monitoring and surveillance are the foundations and as risks evolve, supporting the surveillance effort is important.
The main methods of diagnosing tick-borne diseases are post-mortem examination, serology or blood smears – this is an evolving situation so do get advice from your vet on testing.
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