New ways to beat liver fluke in cattle

Existing drugs are failing to control the scourge of liver fluke in cattle, a parasitic disease that reduces productivity of Australian dairy herds by up to ten per cent.

Now, a $340,000 collaborative research effort by La Trobe University and Agriculture Victoria is developing a new approach to dealing with the problem.
The work has just been funded by the Gardiner Foundation and Dairy Australia.
Recent studies by the joint research team found that the liver fluke parasite had developed widespread resistance against triclabendazole, the most common drug used to combat it.
Co-lead researcher, Professor Terry Spithill, said: ‘With a failing drug, we need a new approach to manage the parasite, particularly in relation to drug resistant strains, as well as better methods to assess the amount of infection in cattle.’
It was important, he said, to find the infective stage of the parasite in the environment, in water, pastures and soil, as this will allow better on-farm management of the problem.

Whole new system to manage the parasite – not just a cattle drench

‘Our aim is to trial a fluke control system based on environmentally integrated parasite management on affected farms, rather than just relying on a chemical drench.
‘Once we establish such techniques to identify the parasite on farms, we plan to roll out an on-farm control program so dairy industry groups can start to implement it in 2018,’ Professor Spithill said.
The project follows more than two years’ research by the team into liver fluke in the irrigation zones of Victoria.
‘We found widespread liver fluke parasite infestation, with up to 73 per cent of herds infected in the Macalister irrigation zone in Gippsland alone,’ Professor Spithill said.

Large collaboration

The project is a new collaboration led by Professor Spithill and Dr Travis Beddoe from La Trobe University and Dr Grant Rawlin from Agriculture Victoria. It is being carried out at the Centre for AgriBioscience, AgriBio, on La Trobe’s Melbourne campus in Bundoora.
Other members of the research team are Dr Chris Hosking, PhD student Jane Kelley and two Honours students, Jaclyn Swan and Genevieve Williamson.
The project has also been supported by the Victorian Cattle Compensation Fund, the Federal Department of Agriculture, Dairy Australia, Agriculture Victoria.

Media contact: Ernest Raetz 0412 261 919

Image: PhD researcher Jane Kelley looking for liver fluke snail in cattle drinking trough