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University of Warwick research promises 5-fold reduction in footrot among sheep

Researchers at the University of Warwick have shown that proper management of footrot could cut lameness from one in ten to one in fifty sheep.

The research promises a sea change in tackling the endemic disease, which causes lameness in around 9 million ewes and lambs in Great Britain each year.

The work is part of a 1.4 million Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded project at the University of Warwick in collaboration with the University of Bristol, which was presented this week to members of the farming and pharmaceutical communities.

Professor Laura Green of the University of Warwick is leading a team which has established that footrot and interdigital dermatitis are two presentations of the disease caused by the same bacterium Dichelobacter nodoss a concept that was not accepted in the veterinary community in the UK before this project.

The results also highlight that it is possible to maintain the prevalence of lameness at below 2 per cent by prompt administration of an injection of antibiotic to sheep with either condition, a reduction from the current average flock prevalence of 10 per cent.

As a result of the University of Warwick research, the Sheep Veterinary Society is drafting new recommendations which will be published nationally on the treatment and control of footrot and interdigital dermatitis in sheep.

The treatment has been tested in India and is as effective there as it is in the UK.

Professor Green said: "Footrot is contagious and extremely painful for diseased sheep, and costly to the farming industry.

"Our research is significant because it can have an immediate impact on the disease with rapid cure in three to five days, minimising the time that sheep are lame as well as increasing productivity for farmers."

During their research, University of Warwick scientists have also identified a gene that might be linked to the bacteria's ability to invade the skin.

They are now aiming to identify the structure of the protein from this gene to help understand how invasion occurs in a bid to further reduce the prevalence of the disease.

Contact: Anna Blackaby
University of Warwick

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