Outbreaks of sudden death in apparently healthy weaned dairy calves due to Strongyloides papillosus parasitism were diagnosed on 2 separate and independent New York (NY) dairies.
Most calves were found dead; however, 1 calf observed while dying showed signs of tachycardia, tachypnea, vocalization, and convulsions shortly before death. In 6 affected heifers that underwent post-mortem examination, precocious bilaterally symmetric mammary gland enlargement was seen. A portion of their parasitized living cohorts also demonstrated similar mammary gland enlargement. A diagnosis of S papillosus hyperinfection was made based upon the presence of high numbers of S papillosus ova in feces, and confirmation by S papillosus–specific PCR assays. Consistent histopathological findings in affected calves included generalized mammary gland vascular congestion, interstitial edema and hemorrhage with ductal hyperplasia. Mild multifocal cardiomyocyte degeneration was found in 5 of 14 calves examined. Factors believed to contribute to the parasite’s environmental amplification and host hyperinfection included group housing on wood shavings and high environmental temperatures and humidity.
TREATMENT AND OUTCOME
Treatment of calves with doramectin pour-on stopped mortality and resolved the udder enlargement.
Similar outbreaks have previously been described in Japan and South Bohemia (Czech Republic), where researchers hypothesized that sudden death may be due to fatal arrhythmia caused by a parasite-associated cardiotoxin. This report highlights the importance of including S papillosus among the differential diagnoses for sudden death alone or together with precocious udder enlargement in calves kept in confinement housing.