Saving Your Alpacas' Life
This paper is to help you save your alpacas' life from one of the little-known alpaca diseases. The disease is Mycoplasma Haemolamae (MH). It is a “Silent Killer”! MH has been detected since the 1990's and was originally called Eperythrozoonosis or EPE. Recently the name has changed in the medical community for camelids, but it is still the same disease.
Alpaca health is very important to an alpaca business. Educating yourself about this disease will help protect your investment and your beloved alpacas.
If you have an animal that is lethargic with chronic weight loss (frequently even though they are eating like crazy), chronic diarrhea, and/or has light to severe anemia you should consider Mycoplasma Haemolamae (MH) as a possible cause. You should start tetracycline treatment immediately. Weight loss can be +/- ¾ of a pound per day, then lethargy and anemia set in very quickly. The alpaca can die within days of the onset of MH without treatment. Over the 10 days of treatment the alpacas will respond positively quickly with weight gain, less lethargy and less anemia. It is possible for it to take months until they are back to normal and have gained all of their weight back. (If your alpaca is down and has had these symptoms and nothing you or your vet has tried has helped, please go immediately to “Treatment” below.)
Mycoplasma Haemolamae is a bacterium that attaches itself to the red blood cells of an alpaca. The immune system recognizes this as a problem and destroys the affected red blood cells. Your alpaca then becomes anemic. In the majority of alpacas infected with these bacteria, there are no signs of the disease. If your animal becomes immunocompromised through another one of the alpaca diseases or is stressed from a move, birthing, weaning, or through other environmental changes (like extreme heat), MH can rear its ugly head. Because of the immunocompromised condition of the alpaca with MH, other opportunistic parasites like strongyles, nematodes, coccidia, EMAC, clostridium A/B/C, SNOTS, etc. can quickly infect the alpaca and MH symptoms could be masked by the similar symptoms from these other parasites and illnesses.
Many animals have died from Mycoplasma Haemolamae but have an incorrect necropsy diagnosis. Most vets and/or labs do not look for MH during necropsy or even during standard blood panels. What usually comes back from a blood panel is anemia with high counts of white blood cells indicating potentially lymphoma. If you have a blood panel done by your vet and the white blood cell count is very high consider treating for MH. It has been found that misdiagnosis of the blood panel can lead to, lymphomic cancer diagnosis in your alpaca. This should be an alarm and treatment for MH should start immediately to prevent death. Use tetracycline treatment prior to other treatments to give your alpaca the best chance for survival. Giving tetracycline will not do any harm. Do not let your alpaca die from not trying. After the full treatment is completed, request another blood panel and compare with the first approximately 10 days after treatment has ended. The white blood cell count will be down significantly and continue to drop to normal counts over time if the alpaca had MH. This has amazed many vets had who were sure the alpaca potentially had cancer. Many alpacas have been put down or left to die after the cancer diagnosis. Why not treat with tetracycline?
The disease can manifest as an acute problem. Your alpaca may suddenly be unable to stand and be extremely weak. Routinely weighing your alpacas (or checking their body score if you do not own a scale) and paying special attention to alpacas with weight loss is the key in achieving early diagnosis. (Remember to record weight after shearing.)
Or MH may be a chronic problem. As mentioned before, your alpaca may have chronic weight loss and lethargy. Diarrhea, moderate to severe may accompany the many symptoms during the failing health of the alpaca. Anemia is one of the last symptoms to appear. Check for anemia by raising the eyelid of the alpaca. Look under the eyelid it should appear bright pink and/or red looking (healthy). This is called the FAMCHA method found in the sheep and goat industry. Pale pink and/or white or almost white usually means the alpaca is close to death with severe anemia.
Testing for MH:
This disease is a “Silent KILLER” and once your alpaca is weak and down you may only have hours to possibly save their life. In this case do not worry about testing. Please start the tetracycline treatment immediately unless your vet can draw blood within the hour.
If you have the time and suspect infection with Mycoplasma Haemolamae, have your vet do a PCR (polymer chain reaction) test from Oregon State University (OSU). The blood is drawn with a “purple top” vile. This test amplifies the DNA so low levels of the bacteria can be detected on the red blood cells. In case you cannot get the PCR results back from your vet or lab in a timely manner like (1-3) days, start treatment immediately, especially if you have exhausted all other potential causes and their treatments.
If your vet has drawn blood for testing, ask for the blood to be tested by Oregon State University. OSU has the only lab testing for MH in the country. OSU holds the patent for the process and I have not found another lab or university who performs the testing. If blood is sent for testing it must be in a “purple top” test tube, handled and processed properly and delivered immediately to OSU. OSU will provide your vet with the handling and shipping procedures, found on their web site. OSU does testing on Thursday's and if your sample arrives late it does not get tested until the next testing day which is Thursday of the next week (although they claim there is always a 1-3 days turn around). Results can be delayed causing death prior to receiving them. Also, if the blood is handled improperly or the alpaca has had antibiotics or some types of worming medication prior to testing, the results can be affected. Start treatment of your alpaca(s) immediately after the blood draw with tetracycline and then wait for the results from OSU. You will find that if it is positive for MH your ahead of the death curve. If it is negative you have not hurt your alpaca with tetracycline treatments.
Mycoplasma Haemolamae is treated with tetracycline (LA200). (Other brands of tetracycline are available but make sure they are the same strength as LA200.) It is available at your local farm supply. Tetracycline is a very common antibiotic and inexpensive.
The dosage used is .045 x the alpaca body weight = number of cc’s of tetracycline to administer. (Example: .045 x 100 pounds = 4.5 cc’s of tetracycline.) The dose is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) for 5 doses. The doses are given every other day for 10 days (5 shots total).
Tetracycline is an over the counter drug and does not need to be prescribed by your vet. Check with your vet or refer to the “Norm Evans Field Manual” for dosages if you are unsure of my recommendation.
Unfortunately, it appears that tetracycline does not completely rid the infected animal of these bacteria for the rest of its life. It only lowers it to safe undetectable levels enough to save your alpacas' life. MH may reoccur in some alpacas more than once in their lifetime. If this happens repeat the process again.
This is one of the alpaca diseases thought to be spread by blood. Blood sucking insects such as biting flies, mosquitoes, lice, fleas, and ticks can transmit MH. Or a used needle can spread the disease.
You should work to keep biting and sucking insects to a minimum on your farm. Biting flies can be controlled by placing fly predators around poop piles and in areas of fly population. (Search for “fly predators” on the internet. They really work cutting the fly problem by 70 to 90% in a season!) Fly traps and fly sticks/tape help as well but do not eliminate the root of the problem. The fly predators last for approximately 2-3 years without placing more. Having chickens free range with your alpacas can eliminate many parasites like ticks, fleas and mites, plus other biting and sucking insects. (One chicken can consume 500 ticks per day.)
Only use a clean unused needle on each individual alpaca when giving injections. Needles are cheap. There is no reason to reuse a needle on another alpaca and risk the chance of transmitting any disease. (Besides, you dull the needle after the first use and it hurts more.)
Yearling alpacas, crias, pregnant females and old alpacas seem to be affected more than an average healthy adult. Test and treat your suspected alpaca(s) with chronic weight loss issues. Then if positive, consider treating others or all in the herd having similar weight loss issues. AGAIN - watch weight closely as it is the primary symptom recognizable (+/- ¾ lb per day) without the interference of other opportunistic parasites. Purchase a good scale and use it. It is worth its weight in gold.
Treated animals usually go on to live a long healthy life. Even though they have not gotten rid of the disease, they can live with it.
All alpacas have the potential to be a MH carrier. Mycoplasma Haemolamae is thought to be in approximately 70% of camelids (alpacas and llamas) in the United States per Norm Evans. More studies are being done to try and eliminate MH and other alpaca diseases.
The MH carrier may look fine, you bring them home and potentially they can infect others in your herd causing problems. Biting fly's can be found everywhere and your alpaca can be bitten at your farm, during transport or even at an alpaca show and now become a carrier. A carrier can be healthy not showing signs for months or even years and maybe never.
It is important to follow up treatments of MH with a series of herbs, minerals and vitamins to assist your alpaca's immune system recovery. (Please contact me if you would like to know what I use.)
Remember - Your Vet Does Not Save Your Alpaca’s Life. YOU DO!
WHEN YOUR ALPACA IS ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY, TAKE THE TIME TO READ ON!!
Camelid Red Blood Cells are Unique:
Here's a couple of interesting facts about camelid red blood cells:
• They have a lifespan of 235 days vs. 100 days for human red blood cells
• Camelids have oval red blood cells instead of round like other mammals. This gives them a larger surface area so there is better oxygen exchange which helps them survive at higher, thinner air altitudes in their native South America.
The unusual shape of an alpaca’s red blood cell makes understanding alpaca diseases a challenge to veterinarians.
My Personal Opinion:
My personal opinion is that hundreds if not thousands of alpacas die in the US, yearly from MH without the knowledge of the vet or the owner. Most times the death is blamed on something else, failure to thrive, heat stroke, internal parasites, cancer, etc. How many times was this just an "educated guess"? I think many!
I am not a vet, but an experienced alpaca owner. When I say experienced I mean, having experienced the effects of this “silent killer” disease first hand. I have seen animals die on my farm and many other farms, with most necropsies determining the death of the alpaca was from common parasites, heat stroke, failure to thrive or some other educated guess from the vet(s). This is done without the exact testing for MH. Without testing it is the vet's best guess. Remember, other parasites become opportunistic and flourish during the process of this disease, including cancer. The alpaca cannot fight anything else because it is busy fighting MH by attacking its own red blood cells, hence anemia. The alpaca dies quickly. Once you see an alpaca die from this disease with parasite and other medical treatments doing nothing to stop it you will never let it happen again!
I am not a vet, but an experienced alpaca owner. If you are not sure about the advice and information I have given, call your vet and discuss MH with them prior to treatment, then get a second opinion and maybe a third. Just act quickly!
When you hear of multiple deaths on alpaca farms around the country it creates the alpaca disease of the year fear. It seems every year something new hits like SNOTS, EMAC, Barber Pole Worm, and so on. The blame is placed unknowingly on the new found disease of the year. Then the "experts" begin to give a series of seminars on the new disease of the year fear. Be safe rather than sorry and treat for MH during these so called outbreaks and you may save your alpacas' life.
Giving LA200 in the dosage mentioned earlier is RISK FREE and can do nothing to harm your alpaca, and it can't hurt even if the alpaca is by chance, ill from something else. Most vets do not recognize the deadliness of this disease and little is written about it, even in the Norm Evans Field Manual, it is just a mention. The articles I have read do not stress the seriousness or deadliness or even the treatment of MH.
Educating yourself can save your alpaca investment, money spent on vet assistance and your alpacas.
Feel free to copy this information and pass it to other alpaca owners.
Knowledge is Power!
Be aware, I am not a trained vet and many may poo-poo this article. Time will tell. To date, passing this information has saved hundreds of alpacas, and I hope many more to come!
The word is getting out and alpaca lives are being saved. But even as you read this article there is an alpaca dead or dying from Mycoplasma Haemolamae unbeknownst to their owners and their vets.
Thank you for the information about MH found on the web at: www.owning-alpacas.com, Oregon State University, Dr. Norm Evans and input from multiple alpaca farms who have experienced this “Silent Killer”.
Alpaca owners, potential owners, veterinarians, and vet techs - if you would like to discuss this further, or if you have any questions contact me anytime.