Clostridium haemolyticum (Bacillary Hemoglobinuria or Red Water)
J Berrier, DVM
Red Water disease is caused by the
gram-positive bacteria Clostridium
is a disease that affects cattle and sheep all over the world.
In the United States, Red Water is found primarily in
the western part of the country and occasionally in the
southern states. The
name Red Water disease or Bacillary Hemoglobinuria comes from
the classic red color of the urine in the affected animals.
This is due to the presence of hemoglobin from lysed
(ruptured) red blood cells.
Red Water has an acute onset and is highly
bacteria is a soil borne anaerobic (doesn’t need oxygen)
is a high incidence in animals that are grazing on irrigated
or poorly draining alkaline pastures.
This disease is also seen in association with liver
are the most commonly affected species.
The liver flukes migrate to the liver and create
necrotic areas that become anaerobic.
The Cl. haemolyticum
bacteria is ingested and then absorbed from the GI tract
and is carried to the liver, the bacteria lodge there until
the ideal anaerobic conditions are created by the liver fluke.
Once the bacteria begin to proliferate in these
necrotic, anaerobic locations in the liver they secrete toxins
that cause necrosis (cell death) and hemolysis (ruptured red
blood cells). This
leads to the classic signs of this disease: jaundice with
hemoglobinuria (red urine) and many necrotic areas in the
The incubation period of this disease is 7
– 10 days. Cattle
that are in the best condition seem to be the most
include jaundice, fever, abdominal pain (arched back), dark
feces, dark red urine, edema and labored breathing.
The duration of these symptoms can range from 12 hours
to 4 days. In
some cases cattle may be found dead in the pasture without
clinical signs ever being observed.
Your veterinarian can diagnose this based on clinical
signs and post mortem findings.
In affected cattle with symptoms,
treatment is almost always necessary to have any hope of
saving the animal. Treatment
includes antibiotics (penicillin or tetracycline) and
Vaccination can be used as an aid to
prevent this disease. Colorado
Serum Company’s Essential
1 (Red Water – Cl.
haemolyticum bacterin) is a whole cell, formalin-inactivated
bacterin adsorbed on aluminum hydroxide that can aid in the
prevention of Red Water with good efficacy for up to a year.
Vaccination is recommended in the spring, prior to the
expected occurrence of the disease.
(This disease occurs mainly in the late summer and
boosters are necessary. It
is recommended to vaccinate every 6 months where constant
exposure is likely. Vaccinate
calves at 3 to 4 months of age.