Malignant catarrhal fever (cause, symptoms, treatment)

Synonyms: Bovine malignant catarrh, Malignant head catarrh, Catarrhal fever, Epitheliosis


  • Malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) is a fatal disease of cattle characterized by catarrhal inflammation of the nasal and oral mucosa, keratoconjunctivitis, encephalitis, rapid dehydration, and generalized enlargement of lymph nodes.
  • The disease is usually sporadic.
  • The disease is worldwide in distribution and prevalent in both temperate and tropical zones.


  • This disease is caused by ovine herpes virus -1 and alcelaphine herpesvirus- 2 which are belonging to the family Herpesviridae.
  • The disease is primarily a disease of cattle and buffalo. The inapparent infection in sheep and goats is also prevalent.


  • This disease is transmitted through wild beasts.
  • The wild beast develops viremia which may persist up to 3 months and during that time they remain highly infective for cattle of all ages.
  • Cattle acquire the infection through subclinically affected sheep.
  • The sheep are the indicator host and wild rabbits are the reservoir host for MCF.

Clinical signs

  • The incubation period of the disease ranges from 2-8 weeks.

1. Peracute form:

The high rise of temperature, dyspnoea, and diarrhea but without any head and eye lesions

2. Head and eye form:

The clinical course of around 9 days characterized by nervous syndrome-like paralysis and convulsion before death

3. Intestinal form

4. Inapparent (mild) form

The disease shows following symptoms;

  • Dullness, depression, anorexia, and high rise of temperature ranging from 105-108ºF.
  • Oocular and nasal discharge.
  • Discharges are initially mucoid which soon become mucopurulent, stingy, and contain blood flecks.
  • There is an acceleration of pulse and respiratory rate.
  • Signs of dyspnea may be evident.
  • Edema of the eyelids leading to panopthalmitis
  • Changes in the epithelium of the mouth cavity comprising of congestive changes, precisely on the gum, beneath the tongue, hard palate, and oral papillae.
  • Erosive and ultimate necrotic changes may follow in the oral mucosa giving rise to offensive odor from the mouth.
  • Ocular lesions– Photophobia and meiosis, corneal opacity, blindness
  • Cutaneous lesions (congestion, petechiation, bluish discoloration, and thickening) localized or generalized prominent on the muzzle, skin of the hoof, scrotum, base of the horn, and teat.


  • Based on clinical signs
  • No reliable serological or immunological tests

Differential diagnosis

  • Rinderpest
  • Mucosal disease
  • Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis

Prevention and control

  • Inactivated or live vaccines with suitable adjuvants induce antibodies against MCFV.
  • In the absence of a vaccine, the only effective strategy is to limit contact between MCF susceptible species and the natural hosts of the virus.
  • Sheep is a spreader of field outbreaks. Therefore, a rigid separation of cattle from sheep is must.
  • The feed used by ewes and lambs should not be provided to cattle.
  • Avoid contact between reservoir host (wildebeest and wild rabbits) and cattle
Malignant catarrhal fever
Malignant catarrhal fever


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