Liver fluke drug scarce in wake of European outbreak

GRUNTHAL, Man. — Manitoba ranchers can’t get their hands on the best drugs to fight liver flukes because of an outbreak in Europe.

It’s worrying many who have seen the parasite move into southeastern Manitoba and continue to spread wider as the wildlife-borne worms find hosts in domestic cattle.

“You cannot get it right now,” Manitoba Beef Producers manager Melinda German said about Fasinex, a Novartis veterinary drug used to control liver flukes. “There are supply issues.”

A major liver fluke outbreak in Europe has infected thousands of herds. Farmers have snapped up the drug, which hits all stages of the fluke in cattle, but that has swallowed the world supply.

North American farmers are having trouble getting the drug from their veterinarians, which is leaving many feeling vulnerable.

“How long will it be unavailable?” asked one rancher at a MBP regional meeting in Grunthal Nov. 6.

German told him it was unclear when Fasinex would be back in stock.

Liver flukes are not usually a devastating disease in cattle.

The parasitic flatworm can quickly kill some livestock, such as sheep and goats, but in cattle they don’t often spread more widely than the liver.

The parasite has a horrifyingly interesting life cycle.

Worms live within main host species, such as deer, and then produce eggs that are eventually excreted. Snails eat the eggs as they dine on infected feces, and cattle do the same when they eat something on which snails are sitting.

Two main types of liver fluke afflict livestock: the small (fascicle hepatico) and the large (fasciola magna) fluke. The small one has been a problem in Alberta and the western Prairies. Southeastern Manitoba has been seeing infections of the large fluke.

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