Animal Health & Disease Management

Flies and Mosquito Borne Diseases (new)

Some very serious diseases of both humans and livestock in Africa are transmitted by different types of flies and mosquitos. These include Rift Valley Fever, Trypanosomiasis, Blue-tongue and 3-day sickness (Ephemeral Fever

3-Day Sickness (Ephemeral Fever)

Local Names: Gabbra: Butt / Kipsigis: miotap butusiek somok / Samburu: lakirkir / Somali: tuhya

Common Names: Three Day Sickness, Stiff Sickness

Description: Flies and mosquito borne disease

Host: Cattle and Water Buffalo



3-Day Sickness is a mosquito-transmitted, viral disease of cattle and water buffalo found in Africa, the Middle East, Asia south of the former USSR, and Australia. Infections with no illness can also occur in wild buffalo, waterbuck, hartebeest, wildebeest, deer and possibly goats.


Mode of Spread 

This disease is only transmitted through mosquito bites, not through direct contact between sick and healthy animals. The virus does not persist in recovered cattle and most recovered cattle have life-long immunity. The insects responsible for spread of the virus are several species of midges (small flies, smaller than mosquitoes) and mosquitoes. Outbreaks are more common when wet conditions favour multiplication of the midge and mosquito populations. Wind may spread the midges and mosquitoes over large areas.

Occurrence and severity of the disease may vary from year to year. The disease can disappear for ten years and more, to return when the resistance of the cattle population is diminished, because the old immune cattle are all gone. During the periods in between large outbreaks, the disease is still present but the number of animals affected is very low and sporadic cases may occur without being recognised.

Recurrence depends primarily on suitable environmental conditions for the increase and dissemination of the insect vector. Outbreaks may depend on a change in the virulence of the virus or an increase in the insect population. 

During epidemics many animals may be affected within days or 2-3 weeks. 


Signs of Ephemeral Fever

After an incubation period of 2-10 days the virus causes inflammation in the joints, muscles and lymph nodes.

  • There is a sudden fever of up to 40.5°C - 41°C (105°F - 106°F) lasting for only 1.5 to 2 days, an increased respiratory rate, difficulty in breathing and a sudden drop in milk yield in lactating cattle. Cattle stop eating and drinking and are depressed; there can be drooling, nasal discharge and watery eyes.
  • Muscle stiffness and pain sometimes only begin on the second day of illness, affected cattle can shiver and become very stiff and show shifting lameness, they are reluctant to move and some may refuse to stand up.
  • Occasionally there is constipation or diarrhoea.
  • The most characteristic signs, however, are the stiffness or lameness. Some animals become recumbent (lie down) and paralyzed from 8 hours to a week. In exceptional severe cases animals suffer permanent paralysis, but this is uncommon and is often caused by accidental falling and injury when cattle have difficulties in standing up.
  • In most cases spontaneous recovery occurs after about 3 days (that’s why it is called 3-Day Sickness). In most lactating cattle milk production returns to normal within three weeks, but cattle towards the end of lactation may dry off.  (After outbreaks of 3-Day Sickness there is often more mastitis than usual in the recovered lactating cattle.)

Bulls, heavy cattle, and high-yielding dairy cattle are the most severly affected, with calves less than 6 months of age showing no clinical signs. Pregnant cows may abort because of the high fever, especially those in late pregnancy. Bulls may suffer temporary infertility. 


This is based on the clinical signs and should pose no problem during an outbreak, but can be difficult in isolated cases. Sporadic cases may be confused with Laminitis, milk fever or a foreign body in the stomach. However, the spontaneous and fast recovery should aid diagnosis 


Prevention and Control 

Control of the insects is not possible. Vaccines are used in valuable and high yielding animals in South Africa and Australia.  A double vaccination (4 weeks apart) is required to protect the animal, protection then lasts for about one year.


Generally, no treatment is required, but in individual cases anti-inflammatory drugs, such as injectable phenylbutazone or flunixin will help recovery. Animals should be rested and not stressed, as this may cause the disease to come back. Cattle with Ephemeral Fever must not be drenched or force-fed because they are unable to swallow and drenching will cause aspiration pneumonia.  Cattle that are unable to stand up can be given a subcutaneous calcium injection, which will give them strength to rise.

Cattle that cannot stand up for more than 8 hours should be rolled over several times a day to avoid permanent muscle damage  in the legs (same as in downer cows after calving).

Review Process

1. William Ayako, KARI Naivasha. Aug - Dec 2009
2. Hugh Cran, Practicing Veterinarian Nakuru. March - Oct 2010
3. Review workshop team. Nov 2 - 5, 2010 
4. May 2013: Review by Dr Mario Younan (DVM, PhD), Regional Technical Advisor for VSF-Germany. working in East Africa since 1995

  • For Infonet: Anne, Dr Hugh Cran
  • For KARI: Dr Mario Younan KARI/KASAL, William Ayako - Animal scientist, KARI Naivasha
  • For Department of Veterinary Services: Dr Josphat Muema - District Veterinary Officer Isiolo, Dr Charity Nguyo - Kabete Extention Division, Mr Patrick Muthui -. Senior Livestock Health Assistant Isiolo, Ms Emmah Njeri Njoroge - Senior Livestock Health Assistant Machakos
  • Pastoralists: Dr Ezra Saitoti Kotonto - Private practitioner, Abdi Gollo H.O.D. Segera Ranch
  • Farmers: Benson Chenge Kuria and Francis Maina Gilgil and John Mutisya Machakos
  • Language and format: Carol Gachiengo

Information Source Links

  • Animal Diseases in the Tropics 4th Edition Edited by Sewell and Brocklesby
  • Barber, J., Wood, D.J. (1976) Livestock management for East Africa: Edwar Arnold (Publishers) Ltd 25 Hill Street London WIX 8LL
  • Blood, D-C., Radostits, O.M. and Henderson, J.A. (1983). Veterinary Medicine - A textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Horses. Sixth Edition - Bailliere Tindall London. ISBN: 0702012866
  • Blowey, R.W. (1986). A Veterinary book for dairy farmers: Farming press limited Wharfedale road, Ipswich, Suffolk IPI 4LG
  • Force, B. (1999). Where there is no Vet. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands. ISBN 978-0333-58899-4.
  • Hall, H.T.B. (1985). Diseases and parasites of Livestock in the tropics. Second Edition. Longman Group UK. ISBN 0582775140
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: General principles. Volume 1 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN: 0333612027
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: Specific Diseases. Volume 2 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN: 0-333-57360-9
  • ITDG and IIRR (1996), Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kenya: A field manual of traditional animal health care practicies. Intermediate Technology Development Group and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN 9966-9606-2-7
  • Pagot, J. (1992). Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics. MacMillan Education Limited London.
  • The Merck Veterinary Manual 9th Edition, Merck & Co Inc Whitehouse Station NJ USA
  • The Organic Farmer magazine No. 50 July 2009
  • The Organic Farmer magazine No. 51 August 2009
  • Vestergaard Frandsen (Supplier of tsetse traps and other technologies for disease control in the tropics)

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