Facial Eczema

Facial Eczema can affect dairy and beef cattle of all ages but younger animals are more susceptible.

Symptoms of the Disease/Condition

Facial eczema (FE) can be a very important disease in certain parts of NZ where the summer/autumn climate tends to be warm and humid.

Sheep are most susceptible followed by dairy cattle, beef cattle, and red deer.

Animals get FE after eating large numbers of fungal spores (Pithomyces chartarum) which contain the toxin sporidesmin.

Sporidesmin causes liver damage which can then lead to photosensitisation.

Photosensitivity occurs because the FE damaged liver cannot breakdown grass pigments from grass that the animal has eaten.

However these classical skin lesions are only the tip of the iceberg but that is what everybody sees on the outside.  Numerous studies give an indication that up to 50% of a mob can have liver damage with only about 3% showing the typical skin lesions.  The real impact comes from the liver damage caused by the sporidesmin.

The effect of FE at the individual farm level is related to both the challenge on the pasture and the ability of the animal to withstand that challenge.

f e udder calf w fe
p chartarum 2


SporeMAP is a programme to help famers monitor what's happening on their farms. It is a programme to help farmers Monitor what's happening on their farm, Analyse what's happening on their farm, and Plan for effective prevention.

Each clinic where facial eczema is a problem is broken down into districts, each with a monitor farm/s. Pasture counts are done from several parts of each monitor farm on a regular basis. Clients are told each time the report for their district has been updated, and spore count trends are available on the website and in each clinic.

Farmers are warned when spore count trends indicate the risk is high enough for them to start their own monitoring.

Sporemap is a free service to the monitor farms, and the information is passed on to the other farmers in each district free of charge. Once spore counts start rising, farmers are encouraged to consult with their VetEnt veterinarian and arrange for their own spore counts to be done, and a suitable prevention programme put in place at their cost.

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Cost/Impact on Herd/Farm Revenue

It is the sub-clinical (not easily seen) disease that has the major impact on farm business performance.

The subclinical effects of FE in cattle include:

  • Weight loss & decreased weight gain- important with young dairy grazers, early weaned beef calves or 16-18 mnth old grazing and beef cattle.
  • Lower milk production soon after cattle take in toxic spores.

FE is best diagnosed by a blood test to measure GGT in live animals.  GGT is an enzyme released into the bloodstream from the damaged liver cells.  It is NOT specific for FE.

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Management and Control

There is no effective treatment for the liver once it has been damaged. However, the liver does have a huge capacity to recover itself as long as the damage has not been too extensive.

Shelter is important for relief from the sun in animals showing clinical signs.

To manage the risks associated with FE we need to understand the fungus which lives in the pasture and the animals that are grazing that pasture and the farm itself.

There is a wide range of products for use to prevent liver damage in animals and reduce spores on the pasture. Timing of the treatments is critical so pasture spore count monitoring is essential to get the best return from the FE management investment.

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