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Ergotism

ISSN 2398-2993

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Synonym(s): Gangrene alkaloid

Introduction

  • Cause: the ingestion of plant material containing the ergot alkaloid.
  • Signs: see below.
  • Diagnosis: history of access to contaminated feed, clinical signs, laboratory detection of toxic levels of ergot alkaloid in feed.
  • Treatment: symptomatic - no specific treatment.
  • Prognosis: varies, can be fatal.

Geographic incidence

  • Areas favouring growth of ergot fungus.
  • Cold winters followed by rainy summers (18 -30oC).

Public health considerations

  • No evidence of Zoonotic Zoonotic diseases spread from affected animals to people.
  • Ergot poisoning in humans through ingestion of infected grain.

Cost considerations

  • Potential disposal of contaminated feed.
  • Treatment of sick animals.
  • Loss of sick animals.

Special risks

  • Increased when fed crops more susceptible to ergot infestion.
    • Most commonly rye grass but also triticale, wheat and barley.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Ingestion of cereals containing ergot alkaloid.
  • Toxic levels - 0.1 - 0.3%.

Predisposing factors

General

  • Access to contaminated feed.

Specific

  • More prevalent when higher contamination of crops.
  • Wet climate.
  • In high humidity, cloud and cooler conditions.
  • Signs exacerbated by cold conditions.

Pathophysiology

  • Effects are caused by the alkaloids ergotamine and ergonovine produced by ergot fungus, claviceps purpurea .
  • Alkaloids bind to amine receptors.
  • Vasoconstriction of small arteries.
    • Ischemic necrosis of dermal tissues, particularly ear, tail or feet.
    • Cold, painful extremeties.
    • Gangrene.
    • Eventual sloughing of hooves/tail/teats.
    • In the uterus cause a decreased fetal body weight and abortion.
  • Neurotransmission.
    • Alkaloids bind to amine receptors and interrupt neurotransmission.
    • Irrational behaviour, in-coordination, convulsions, death.

Timecourse

  • Acute cases - soon after ingestion.
  • Chronic cases -  2-6 weeks after ingestion.

Epidemiology

  • Several animals affected.
  • Some evidence for variable individual response.
  • Variety of clinical signs seen.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

Other sources of information

  • Smith P. In: Large Animal Internal Medicine. UK. pp 1660.

Organisation(s)

  • Real Agriculture (2018) Ergot Poisoning Symptoms and Prevention in Cattle. [online] Available at: www.realagriculture.com.
  • Iowa State University. Ergot Poisoning in Cattle [online] Available at: vetmed.iastate.edu.
  • University of Saskatchewan. Winter Cereal Production [online] Available at: www.usask.ca.