July 18 2014 06:44 AM

Hemorrhagic bowel syndrome causes abdominal pain, dehydration and death while keeping producers guessing on methods to prevent it.

Hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS) was first detected in the early 1990s in dairy herds. Since that time, it has become a more common issue in the industry affecting all breeds of cattle and especially Brown Swiss.

According to a presentation given by Sheila McGuirk at the Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference in June, virtually no progress has been made in treating the disease because researchers have been unable to recreate the disease in the lab. A definitive cause of HBS has yet to be identified, but two agents, the bacteria clostridium perfringens type A and the mold aspergillus fumigatus, appear to play a role.

HBS causes depression, reduced feed intake, colic, a ping on the right side of the abdomen, dark feces with blood clots and death. Unfortunately, none of the signs are unique to HBS, and McGuirk said the disease is often overdiagnosed in herds that are looking for it.

The disease is sporadic, appearing in herds in clusters of cases that often affect less than 10 percent of the herd. McGuirk said the group affected is often high-producing cows in the first 100 days of lactation. The cases have also been more common in cows that have received BST treatments.

Treatment does exist for the disease although the success rate for curing it is low. Without surgery, McGuirk marks the mortality rate at 77 to 100 percent. In cows that undergo exploratory surgery massaging the gut and providing fluid treatment, the survival rate is slightly higher at 60 percent. However, even cows that recover remain at risk of relapsing with a recurrence rate near 39 percent.

McGuirk recommends prevention as the most successful means for managing the disease. She suggests controlling the concentration of clostridium perfringens and aspergillus fumigatus organisms in the cows' environment. However, she warned that organism management alone would not reduce the likelihood significantly. She also recommends maintaining motility in the cow's gut by providing consistent rations to the cows and reducing stress. She also said some association with high-energy diets has been found and there is some likelihood that the disease may be linked with high amount of substrates in the feed.

Seiler blog footerThe author is the 26th Hoard's Dairyman editorial intern. This fall she will be a senior at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. At KSU, Maggie is double majoring in agricultural communications and journalism and animal sciences and industry. Seiler grew up on a 130-cow registered Holstein dairy in Valley Center, Kan., near Wichita.