How to spot and treat botulism as outbreaks continue in the North

Botulism is becoming more of a concern in Northern Ireland as outbreaks continue to occur, according to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)

Botulism is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium Botulinum which causes severe blood poisoning.

It is caused by toxins produced by bacteria which are present in high levels in decaying organic matter such as bird and animal carcasses, DAERA has said.

It attributes this outbreak of the disease to poultry litter, which is spread significantly as a fertiliser in the North, being contaminated with dead chicken carcasses. Even the smallest of fragment can be dangerous to ruminants, DAERA has warned.

The severity and the progression of the disease depends on the amount of toxin that is ingested by the animal.

DAERA has issued advice as to how the signs of Botulism can be spotted and treated:

Symptoms

The animal affected animal will show signs of paralysis such as a staggered walk, weakness and muscle tremors.

Protrusion of the tongue can be another obvious sign.

If a large amount of toxin has been ingested an animal can be found dead without even showing any signs of these symptoms.

Control and prevention

DAERA advises that the poultry litter should not be spread on agriculture land that is going to be grazed or from which silage and hay is to be harvested. Farmers should avoid putting animals to graze the pasture until the following year.

The botulinum toxin can remain on the pasture for a considerable long time and it has said that if poultry litter spreading has to be done then it should be ploughed into the ground.

The litter should be loaded directly into the spreading equipment and it should be covered to avoid any access to scavengers that would carry the disease onto pastures or into livestock housing, it recommends.

Treatment

There are two vaccines available under special treatment certification for the protection of cattle at risk of botulism.

However, vaccination should not be used as a substitute for preventing exposure of cattle to poultry litter.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) requires that all meat and milk from clinically affected animals should not enter the food chain.

However, is said there is no need for restrictions on the sale of milk or meat from clinically normal animals in affected herds.