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Malignant Catarrhal Fever . Jeffrey Musser, DVM, PhD Professor Moritz van Vuuren Suzanne Burnham, DVM Texas A&M University University of Pretoria

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

Jeffrey Musser, DVM, PhD Professor Moritz van Vuuren

Suzanne Burnham, DVM

Texas A&M University University of Pretoria

College of Veterinary Medicine Department of

Veterinary Tropical Diseases

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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For additional information, download this presentation and read the notes attached to each slide.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant CatarrhalFever

In this presentation the authors especially drew from the first hand experience of their colleagues in South Africa. Personal interviews as well as standard research sources provide the insights we bring you for the recognition of this exotic disease.

Jeffrey Musser

Suzanne Burnham

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

Another word of thanks to Dr Corrie Brown who believes that sharing information will make the world a better place. Dr Brown generously has shared her work on this subject to add to the depth of this work.



Dr Corrie Brown

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Diseases Notifiable to the OIE

  • Cattle diseases

    Bovine anaplasmosisBovine babesiosisBovine genital campylobacteriosisBovine spongiform encephalopathy Bovine tuberculosisBovine viral diarrhoeaContagious bovine pleuropneumonia Enzootic bovine leukosisHaemorrhagic septicaemiaInfectious bovine rhinotracheitis/infectious    pustular vulvovaginitisLumpky skin diseaseMalignant catarrhal feverTheileriosisTrichomonosisTrypanosomosis (tsetse-transmitted)

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

Malignant catarrhal fever, is an infectious

disease of ruminants. It is also referred

to as malignant catarrh, malignant head

catarrh, and gangrenous coryza.

In South Africa it may also be called

“snotsiekte” which means

“snotting sickness”

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

Malignant catarrhal fever is a sporadic, usually fatal, pansystemic disease of cattle and deer characterized by low morbidity but high mortality, high fever, catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and the digestive tract, dehydration, conjunctivitis, generalized lymphadenopathy and epithelial lesions.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal FeverContents

  • Etiology

  • Host range

  • Transmission

  • Incubation

  • Clinical signs

  • Diagnosis

  • Differential Diagnosis

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Wildebeest derived MCF is caused by Alcelaphine herpesvirus type 1(AHV-1)

  • Sheep associated MCF is caused by Ovine herpesvirus-2 (OVH-2)

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Caprine herpesvirus type 2

  • All are Lymphotropic Cell-associated Gamma family herpesviruses

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Wildebeest-derived

    • Occurs wherever wildebeest live

    • Alcelaphine herpesvirus-1

  • Sheep-associated

    • Endemic, worldwide; sheep is the natural reservoir host

    • Ovine herpesvirus-2

  • Goat-derived

    • Goats are the natural reservoir host.

    • Caprine herpesvirus-2

    • Seen in deer as alopecia, weight loss syndrome

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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All varieties of domestic sheep in North America are carriers of ovine herpesvirus-2 (OVH-2). Malignant Catarrhal fever in these natural hosts does not produce clinical disease.

Likewise, goats are endemically infected

with caprine herpesvirus-2 (CpHV-2) which apparently only causes clinical disease in deer.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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The disease expression in

“sheep-associated” MCF and

“wildebeest-derived” MCF

is very similar.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Host Range

  • The disease can occur in cattle, domesticated buffaloes, a wide range of captive antelopes and deer, and free-living deer.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Host Range

  • Under natural conditions only domestic cattle and deer develop clinical signs

  • MCF has never been reported in free-living wild animals in Africa

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Host Range

  • In zoological collections a wide variety of ruminant species have been reported to develop clinical signs

  • Rabbits can be infected experimentally

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Host Range

  • It was recently confirmed in pigs in Scandinavia

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Reservoir ruminant species

  • Blue wildebeest

  • Black wildebeest

  • Domestic sheep

  • Goats

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Blue Wildebeest

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Black Wildebeest

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Neonatal and adolescent wildebeest shed virus

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Transmission from reservoir animals to domestic cattle, deer

contact with calving wildebeest

contact with lambing sheep

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Cattle are more susceptible to

Wildebeest derived MCF

than to the sheep or goat MCF

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Transmission of the virus is associated with lambing time of sheep or calving season of wildebeest when the virus can be shed from nasal secretions.

  • After this period the virus occurs only as cell-associated, not free virus

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Droplets and aerosol dispersal of free virus may contaminate feed and water sources

  • Transmission to cattle mostly occurs by inhalation of droplets shed from ewes that are lambing

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Natural transmission of the virus

  • Wildebeest to cattle 

  • Wildebeest to other ruminants 

  • Wildebeest to deer 

  • Sheep to cattle 

  • Sheep to other ruminants 

  • Sheep to deer 

  • Deer to susceptible species ?

  • Deer to deer 

  • Goats to susceptible species ? Quite likely

  • Cattle to cattle X

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Congenital Transmission

Cow will die then later calf will die

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Virus infects “natural killer” lymphocytes and transforms them. Transformed cells then replicate as if they were neoplastic and attack host. Terminal necrotizing lesions are believed to be the result of an autoimmune type phenomenon. Vessels and stratified squamous mucosal surfaces are attacked.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Unknown for natural infections. Some animals are subclinically infected and only demonstrate symptoms when stressed. Some evidence indicates up to 200 days

  • Experimentally incubation periods may be from 7 to 77 days

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever: Clinical Signs

  • In some cases MCF presents as chronic alopecia and weight loss as with deer infected with the Caprine herpesvirus.

  • However, MCF is typically fatal.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

  • There are many factors that affect the duration of the disease in different species

  • The severity of the clinical symptoms will depend on those factors. Mortality is usually 100% but some animals face weeks of progressive disease

  • For this reasons, once the disease is identified, most elect to euthanized the affected animal.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

  • High fever 106-107°F (41-41.5°C)

  • Depression

  • In deer - sudden death

  • Deer and bison that survive 2-3 days:

    • Hemorrhagic diarrhea

    • Bloody urine

    • Corneal opacity

    • Then death

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

  • The longer the animal survives the course of the disease the more severe the signs become.

  • For example, animals that die acutely may not develop lymphadenopathy or corneal opacity

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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As the disease progresses:

  • Catarrhal inflammation

  • Erosions and exudates in upper respiratory tract, ocular and oral mucosa

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Lameness

  • CNS signs (depression, tremors, stupor, hypo-responsive, aggression, convulsions

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

  • On average the time to death for European cattle is longer than for deer, bison and water buffalo; usually 7-17 days after the appearance of clinical signs

  • In cattle the swollen lymph nodes and severe eye lesions are more frequent

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

  • Hemorrhagic enteritis and cystitis are more frequently seen in bison and deer than in cattle

  • Skin lesions are common in animals that do not succumb quickly

  • Most eventually die, about 5% recover clinically

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical signs

  • Depressed and VERY SICK

  • Stertorous respiration

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

Animals suffer, are painful and breathe with difficulty

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

Secondary bacterial bronchopneumonia may be eventual cause of death if not euthanized first

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

Painful swollen eyes

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

Ocular and

nasal discharge

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Clinical Signs


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Mucopurulent discharge, crusting occludes the nostril;

animal begins open mouth breathing.

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Characteristic of MCF

Early corneal opacity begins

at the limbus

Progresses to total opacity

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs

Severe panophthalmitis, hypopion, corneal erosions are more frequent in cattle

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe Ocular lesions

Painful Conjunctivitis

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe Ocular lesions

Progresses to corneal opacity

beginning at Limbus

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe Ocular lesions

Characteristic eye lesions

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe Ocular lesions

Characteristic eye lesions

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe Ocular lesions

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Erosions on gums, dental pad and near teeth

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Erosions near the teeth

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Necrosis of papillae similar to rinderpest

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Erosions here are similar to bluetongue in Africa

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Erosions of papillae

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Oral Lesions

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Enlarged and edematous

lymph nodes

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Moist necrotic

dermatitis with

exudation and


Skin lesions associated

with both sheep form

and wildebeest derived.

Resembles foot-and-mouth


Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Mild diarrhea

sometimes seen

which is black and

tarry, but not


Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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In terminal stages CNS

symptoms: falling, circling,

head pressing, high stepping

convulsions, then death

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Signs in Swine

From a case in Norway:

Symptoms reported as: hyperemic conjunctiva, vomiting, restlessness and anorexia. The rectal temperature was 41° C, the respiratory rate was 33 per minute, and the heart rate was 110 per minute. Despite parenteral antibiotic treatment, the symptoms worsened and the pig died 5 days after onset of disease. Over a short period, three other adult swine in the same herd died after showing similar clinical signs.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Clinical Features Summary

  • Incubation period is LONG – weeks to months

  • Morbidity LOW

  • Clinical illness – weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes, corneal opacity, rhinitis

  • Mortality – 100%

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Polymerase chain reaction

  • Gross Pathology

  • Histopathological examination

  • Serology

  • Virus isolation

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Diagnosis at Necropsy

  • The disease is systemic and lesions can be found in any organ

  • Inflammation and necrosis of the respiratory, alimentary and urinary mucosa

  • Generalized lymphoid proliferation and necrosis

  • Widespread vasculitis

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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“button ulcers” 5-10 cm erosions

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Lymphoid infiltration

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Multifocal lymphoid infiltration

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Multifocal lymphoid infiltration

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Enlarged lymphoid tissue – everywhere

– looks like lymphoma

Tonsils bulge

Lymph nodes – TOO BIG

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Hemal nodes are prominent

Spleen infiltrated

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Peyer’s patches stand out

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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T lymphocyte


cell necrosis

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Severe necrotizing



lymphoid infiltration

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Perivascular lymphoid

infiltration of arterioles

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Differential diagnosis

  • Mucosal disease

  • Rinderpest

  • Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis

  • Orbivirus infections

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Control of MCF

  • There is no vaccine

  • Keep cattle away from

    lambing sheep and

    calving wildebeest!

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Differential Diagnosis

  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis

  • Rinderpest

  • Foot-and-mouth disease

  • Bovine Viral Diarrhea/mucosal disease

  • East Coast Fever (Theileriosis)

  • With CNS signs can resemble rabies

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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  • Script, directing and editing: Prof M van Vuuren

  • Video footage: Prof M van Vuuren and Prof JAW Coetzer

  • Voice-Over: Mr M Gooding

  • Editing: Mr A du Plessis

An excellent video about Malignant Catarrhal Fever is available from:

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Think Malignant Catarrhal fever when:

  • Only a few cattle are affected and they die

  • Cattle have been exposed to sheep during lambing season

  • Cattle have severe respiratory symptoms and conjunctivitis with cornel opacity

  • Lesions are on the ventral side of the tongue

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Image Watermark

  • “KAW” images by Dr. Ken A. Waldrup

  • “Coetzer” images used with permission by Dr. J.A.W. Coetzer

  • “LLogan” images by Dr. Linda Logan

  • “Suz” images by Dr Suzanne Burnham

  • “MVV” images by Prof Moritz van Vuuren

  • Logo for Dr. Juan Lubroth

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Special thanks to

Professors Moritz van Vuuren and JAW CoetzerDepartment of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Science, U of Pretoria

Linda Logan, DVM PhD, USDA International Services, Attaché

Ken Waldrup, DVM, PhD, Texas Department of State Health Services

Robin Sewell, DVM, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, Librarian

Kelsey Pohler- Research Assistant, TAMU

Linda Venter, Instructional Designer, Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Science, U of Pretoria

Lilly Mphahlele, Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Science, U of Pretoria

Malignant Catarrhal Fever

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Special thanks for materials borrowed with permission from presentations by:

  • Corrie Brown, DVM PhD, University of Georgia, Department of Veterinary Pathology

  • Professor Moritz van Vuuren and Professor JAW Coetzer, Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, “Malignant Catarrhal Fever” presented at the FEAD course in Knoxville, Tenn. 2005.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever