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How to control skin infections in livestock

By Dr Othieno Joseph

I am a farmer in Machakos. I have 12 goats on my farm. My compound is fenced and I let them walk freely and feed on bushes and grass. I have noticed hairless patches on the animals. Some have wounds underneath and when I called my vet, he said they could be having fungal or bacterial skin infections. What could have caused this and how can I prevent such an occurrence in the future?

Mutisya

Machakos.

Dear Mutisya,

From the clinical signs you have given and from the vet’s verdict, it is true your stocks are suffering from fungal and bacterial skin infections. Take care because these diseases are transmissible to man.

Fungal skin infections are common and especially in young stock or those under some form of stress, so are bacterial skin infections. Fungal skin infections are commonly known as ringworms. The location on the skin determines how fast they spread.

Fungal infections though in most cases aren’t fatal, can lower the market price of your goat or sheep or the wool quality. Fungal and bacterial skin infection causing micro-organisms are found in the environment and on the animal and become infective when the environmental conditions are favourable – warm humid conditions for example during rains.

Fungal infections are characterised by itchiness and can subsequently result in rubbing against surfaces by the affected animals. This can easily result in skin wounds which may serve as entry for other secondary disease-causing micro-organisms. The point is, fungal skin infections once noticed must be addressed immediately. Bacterial skin infections can be fatal due to their invasive nature.

Clinically, these infections will be shown by hair loss, matting, crusting and scab formation. The most common sites of infection include ears, muzzle, face and tail. Microscopic examination of samples collected from sites of infection is used to identify the micro-organism involved and thereafter in the choice of drugs to be used to treat.

 Transmission

Understanding how these infections are spread is important in their control. These diseases are spread by direct contact between infected and healthy animals, sharing of contaminated equipment for example grooming or veterinary equipment and contaminated dipping solutions. Insects can also spread bacterial and fungal skin diseases. Contaminated bedding is another common source of infection.

Treatment

Bacterial and fungal skin diseases can be managed medically. The hair around the affected area should be clipped and cleaned with a disinfectant solution like betadine, iodine and topical antifungal and antibiotic ointment or sprays applied.  In severe cases, antibiotics may be injected.

Prevention: 

Prevention is done by quick isolation and treatment of any diseased animals. Control of biting insects should also be done to prevent them from spreading the disease across animals. Diets of the animals should be improved to enhance their immunity.

Fungal and bacterial skin infections are common in animals whose immunity has been lowered. In rainy environments, it is important to provide shelter for the animals. Be keen while buying new stock; observe if they have any clinical signs for skin infections. Avoid mixed grazing with goats or sheep from infected farms.

However, it must be noted that this isn’t the only skin condition that manifests with the above clinical signs, there are others like mites, blowfly attacks, orf, fleece rot, lumpy wool and photosensitivity that also affect the skin.

(Dr Othieno was the winner of Vet of the Year Award in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council – KENTTEC, jothieno43@yahoo.com)     

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