Prevalence of cardiac lesions in cases of bovine blackleg

Blackleg is a common cause of death in cattle, mostly caused by the bacterium Clostridium chauvoei. Cardiac lesions were traditionally considered uncommon in cases of blackleg in cattle until a 2018 study reported otherwise. 

In this study, researchers aimed to determine the prevalence of cardiac disease among cattle that died of blackleg in Tennessee. The outcome of this study could reinforce the importance of assessing cardiac lesions in suspected cases of blackleg in cattle. 

The University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center database searched for cattle with a confirmed diagnosis of blackleg necropsied between 2004 to 2018. Of the 120 necropsy reports, 37 had a diagnosis of blackleg. Histology slides of skeletal muscle (26/37) and the heart (26/37) were reviewed to confirm the presence of supportive lesions. 

Of the 37 cases of blackleg identified, 26 animals (70.3%) had cardiac lesions, including four (10.8%) that had only cardiac involvement without skeletal muscle lesions. 

Specifically, (5.4% or 2/37) had only necrotizing myocarditis; (13.5% or 5/37) had only fibrinous or fibrinosuppurative pericarditis, epicarditis or endocarditis. 

In addition, 51.4% or 19/26 had a combination of myocarditis and pericarditis, epicarditis or endocarditis and 29.7% or 11/37 had no lesions. Of the 26 cases with cardiac lesions, 24 cases had gross lesions, while two cases were identified only by microscopic examination. 

According to researchers, this indicates that gross examination alone is insufficient to identify cardiac involvement in blackleg cases in cattle. 

The team concluded that contrary to traditional perceptions, cardiac lesions in cases of bovine blackleg could be as high as 70% and are most often associated with skeletal muscle lesions. The prevalence of cardiac lesions in cases of blackleg in cattle may be higher when the heart is examined microscopically than if it is only evaluated grossly. 

Pathologists should specifically evaluate the heart for lesions in suspected cases of blackleg in cattle and utilize microscopic examination when gross lesions are absent.

Chika C Okafor, et al. “Prevalence of Cardiac Lesions in Cases of Bovine Blackleg in Tennessee (USA), 2004-2018.” Vet Sci. 2023 Apr 17;10(4):297.  doi: 10.3390/vetsci10040297.

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