Mycomplasma Haemolamae in Alpacas
September 06, 2011
By: Internet Sources-Owning-Alpacas.com and Mike Six
Mycomplasma Haemolamae in Alpacas
Saving Your Alpacas’ Life
Saving your alpacas’ life from one of the known alpaca diseases that you may not have heard of, but should be aware of, is Mycomplasma Haemolamae (MH). It is a Silent Killer! MH has been detected since the 1990’s and was called Eperythrozoonosis or EPE. Recently the name has changed in the medical community for camelids, but it’s still the same disease. Alpaca health is very important to an alpaca business. Educating yourself about this disease will help protect your investment.
If you have an animal that is lethargic with chronic weight loss and has light or heavy anemia you should consider Mycomplasma Haemolamae (MH) as a possible cause and start tetracycline treatment immediately. Weight loss can be +/- ¾ of a pound per day, lethargy and anemia happens very quickly. Then the alpaca can die within days without treatment. The alpaca’s response will be quick and over the 10 days of treatment they will respond with weight gain, less lethargy and less anemia until they are back to normal and gaining their weight back in just a short period of time. (See Treatment below)
If you call your vet and they draw blood for testing, ask for the blood to be tested by Oregon State University. OSU has the only lab testing for MH in the country. OSU holds the patent for the process and I have not found another lab or university who performs the testing. If blood is sent for testing it must be in a purple top test tube, handled and processed properly and delivered imediately to OSU. OSU will provide your vet with the handling and shipping procedures, found on their web site. OSU does testing on Thursday’s and if your sample arrives late it does not get tested until the next testing day which is Thursday of the next week although they claim 1-3 days turn around. Results can be delayed causing death prior to recieving them. Also if the blood is handled improperly or the alpaca has had antibiotics or some types of worming medication prior to testing, the results can be affected. Treat your alpaca imediately and then wait for the results. You will find that if it is positive for MH your ahead of the dying curve. If it is negative you have not hurt your alpaca with tetracycline treatments.
Mycomplasma Haemolamae is a bacterium that attaches itself to the red blood cells of an alpaca. The immune system recognizes this as a problem and destroys the red blood cells. Your alpaca then becomes anemic. In the majority of alpacas infected with these bacteria, there are no signs of the disease. If your animal becomes immunocompromised through another one of the alpaca diseases or is stressed from a move or through other environmental changes, Mycomplasma Haemolamae can rear its ugly head. Because of the immunocompromised condition of the alpaca, other opportunistic parasites like strongyles, nematodes, coccidia, EMAC, clostridium A, B, C etc., can quickly infect the alpaca and Mycomplasma Haemolamae symptoms could be masked by the similar symptoms from these other parasites and illnesses. Many animals have died from Mycomplasma Haemolamae with an incorrect necropsy. Most vets and/or labs do not look for Mycomplasma Haemolamae during necropsy or even during standard blood panels. What usually comes back is anemia with high counts of white blood cells. This should be an alarm and treatment should start imediately to prevent death.
The disease can manifest as an acute problem. Your alpaca may suddenly be unable to stand and be extremely weak. Or it may be a chronic problem. As mentioned before, your alpaca may have chronic weight loss and lethargy. Anemia is one of the last symptoms to appear. Check for anemia by raising the eyelid of the alpaca. It should be bright pink and/or red looking (healthy) This is called the FAMCHA method found in the sheep and goat industry. Pale pink and/or white or almost white is close to death by intense anemia.
If you suspect infection with Mycomplasma Haemolamae, have your vet do a PCR (polymer chain reaction) test from OSU. This test amplifies the DNA so low levels of the bacteria can be detected on the red blood cells. In case you cannot get the PCR results back from your vet or lab in a timely manner like (1-3) days, start treatment immediately, especially if you have exhausted all other potential causes. This disease is a KILLER and once your alpaca is weak and down it is only days to hours to save their life, maybe.
This is one of the alpaca diseases thought to be spread by blood. Blood sucking insects such as biting flies, mosquitoes, lice, fleas, and ticks should be kept to a minimum on your farm. Only use a clean unused needle on each individual alpaca when giving injections. Needles are cheap. There is no reason to reuse a needle on another alpaca and risk the chance of transmitting any disease (besides, you dull the needle after the first use and it hurts more). Biting flies can be controlled by placing fly predators around poop piles and in areas of fly population. (search: (fly predators) on the net – they really work) Fly traps and Fly Stix help as well but do not elliminate the root of the problem like fly predators, they really work cutting the fly problem by 70 to 90% in a season. They last for 2-3 years or more without placing more. Having chickens free range with your alpacas can eliminate many parasites like ticks, (1 chicken can consume 500 ticks per day) fleas and other biting and sucking insects.
Mycomplasma Haemolamae is treated with tetracycline (LA200) (other brands of tetracycline are available but make sure they are the same strength as LA200) at your local farmer’s co-op a very common antibiotic. The dosage normally used is (.045) X (body weight) subcutaneously for 5 doses given every other day. Tetracycline is an over the counter drug and does not need to be prescribed by your vet. Check with a vet for dosages if you are unsure. Unfortunately, it appears that tetracycline does not completely rid the infected animal of these bacteria, but only lowers it to safe undetectable levels and save your alpacas life.
Once infected, an alpaca becomes a carrier known as a “tick” in the cattle industry. They will not have problems with the disease unless they become immunocompromised. This is an opportunistic bacterium.
The problem with having a carrier in your herd is that a fly could bite the carrier and then bite another animal passing on the bacterium. If you live near other livestock,(horses, cattle, sheep, goats etc..) this disease can be contracted from them via biting and sucking insects moving to your farm and making contact with your alpacas.
If you suspect Mycomplazma Haemolamae in an alpaca, you should probably test your whole herd and treat any animal with positive PCR results. Otherwise, you could have a reinfection of the disease. Not totally necessary if you are watching your alpacas closely for changes in normal conditions especially their weight. Young alpacas and cria seem to be affected much quicker that an adult. Probably because they weigh less and have less blood. Test and treat your suspected alpaca(s) who seem to have chronic weight issues. Then if positive consider doing others or all in the herd. Watch weight closely as it is the primary symptom that is recognizable without the interference of other opportunistic parasites.
Treated animals usually go on to live a long healthy life. Even though they have not gotten rid of the disease, they can live with it.
It’s important to weigh or evaluate alpacas when sheared or learn body scoring so you can spot a thin alpaca being a potential carrier of Mycomplasma Haemolamae. You should, also, require a PCR test from OSU before purchasing. The Mycomplasma Haemolamae carrier may look fine, but you bring them home and they infect your herd causing problems. Biting flys can be found everywhere and your alpaca can be bitten at your farm, during transport or even at an alpaca show and become a carrier back on your farm. A carrier can be healthly not showing signs for months or even years.
Here’s a couple of interesting facts about camelid red blood cells:
• They have a lifespan of 235 days vs. 100 days for human red blood cells
• Camelids have oval red blood cells instead of round like other mammals. This gives them a larger surface area so there is better oxygen exchange which helps them survive at higher, thinner air altitudes in their native South America.
The unusual shape of an alpaca’s red blood cell makes understanding alpaca diseases a challenge to veterinarians.
Mycomplasma Haemolamae is thought to be in 25% or more of Camelids (alpacas and llamas) in the United States. More studies are being done to try and eliminate alpaca diseases. Until something better is found for Mycoplasma Haemolamae, keep the insect population down on your farm and test and treat to keep it in check if present.
Remember: Your Vet Does Not Save Your Alpaca’s Life. YOU DO!
“I am not a vet”, but an experienced alpaca owner. When I say experienced I mean, having experienced the effects of this silent killer disease first hand. I have seen animals die on my farm and other farms, with most necropsies determining the death of the alpaca was from common parasites, heat stroke, failure to thrive or some other educated guess from the vet(s). This is done without the exact testing for MH. Without these tests it is the vet’s best guess. Remember, other parasites become opportunistic during the process of this disease. The alpaca cannot fight anything else because it is busy fighting MH by attacking its own red blood cells, hence anemia. The alpaca dies quickly. Once you see an alpaca die from this disease with all parasite and other medical treatments doing nothing to stop it you will never let it happen again! I am not a vet, but an experienced alpaca owner. If you are not sure about the information I have given, call your vet and discuss MH with them prior to treatment, then get a second opinion and maybe a third.
My personal opinion is that hundreds if not thousands of alpacas have died in the U.S. from MH without the knowledge of the vet or the owner. Many times the death is blamed on something else, failure to thrive, heat stroke, internal parasites etc. How many times was this just an “semi-educated guess”? I think many! When you hear of multiple death’s on an alpaca farm(s) around the country it creates the alpaca disease of the year fear. Every year something new hits, SNOTS, EMAC, Barber Pole Worm and so on, and the blame is placed unknowningly on the new found disease of the year. Then the “experts” begin to give a series of seminars on the new fear. Be safe rather than sorry and treat for MH during these so called outbreaks and you may save your alpacas’ life.
Giving LA200 in the dosage mentioned earlier is Risk Free and can do nothing to harm your alpaca, and it can’t hurt even if the alpaca is by chance, ill from something else. Most vets do not recognize this disease and little is written about it, even in the Norm Evans field manual, it is just a mention. Most of the articles I have found do not stress the seriousness or deadliness of MH.
Educating yourself can save your alpaca investment, money spent on vet assistance and your alpacas.
Feel free to copy this information and pass it to other alpaca owners. Knowledge is Power!
Be aware, I am not a trained vet and many may poo poo this article. I say, poo poo back! Time will tell…. To date, passing this information has saved many alpacas and I am sure many more to come!
Thank you for the information about MH found on the web at: owning-alpacas.com, OSU, and other internet sites reviewed, (the word is getting out and alpaca lives are being saved), but even as you read this there is an alpaca dead or dying from Mycomplasma Haemolamae unknown to the owner and their vet.
Alpaca owners, potential owners vets’, techs’ if you would like to discuss this further or if you have any questions contact me anytime.
Morning Moon Alpacas, Inc. http://www.morningmoonalpacas.com/