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Introduction Liver fluke disease or fasciolosis is a parasitic disease of grazing animals caused by a flat worm (Fasciola hepatica) and is economically important in cattle, sheep and goats. Liver fluke disease causes annual losses estimated to be around €2.5 billion to livestock and food industries worldwide, and is estimated to cost at least €90M to the Irish industry. Economic losses caused by liver fluke are mainly associated with a decrease in meat and milk production. Depending on the degree of infection, liver fluke may cause a reduced meat production of up to 20% in cattle and up to 30% in sheep, and a reduction in milk production of up to 8% in cows. Fertility can suffer and beef cattle affected by fluke may take an extra 80 days to reach market weights. Losses also occur due to the number of livers condemned in meat plants as up to 50% of livers may be condemned. Severe infection may cause death due to anaemia in young animals, particularly in lambs. Liver fluke can occasionally result in sudden death by triggering certain clostridial diseases of cattle. More recently, evidence has emerged that liver fluke infection and may also exacerbate other infectious diseases such as salmonellosis and Tuberculosis. The prevalence of liver fluke infection has increased up to 12-fold in certain EU Member States (including Ireland) during recent years. Life Cycle Animals are infected by ingesting encapsulated larvae (metacercariae) on contaminated grass. Typically, individual farms will have wet “flukey areas” that should not be used or grazed at times of the year when metacercariae are likely to be present, i.e. late summer to winter (depending on climatic conditions). However, cattle and sheep often graze on such areas. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that liver fluke infection is absent from any area of Ireland.
Figure 1: Liver fluke life cycle
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