Background: There is currently no scientific evidence regarding the current climatic or other epidemiological factors that could influence the occurrence of heartwater in South Africa.
Objectives: The objective was to determine whether climatic changes or other epidemiological factors influence the occurrence of heartwater in South Africa.
Method: A survey was conducted to scrutinise these factors using both veterinarians and farmers working in known areas in which heartwater had previously been confirmed to establish the value of each of these factors. Based on the observations, meaningful tendencies were noted, and conclusions drawn.
Results: These include changes in the spatial distribution of heartwater in many areas, with serious expansion, in some instances, of up to 150 km. In total, 48% of veterinarians and 42% of farmers reported seeing increase in the number of farms affected by heartwater. Climate change as a causative factor indicated by observations of increased average temperatures, milder frosts, less rain and shorter rainy seasons was identified by the majority of farmers but not by as many veterinarians. Respondents in both groups considered vegetation change an important factor. Increasing number of wildlife, especially antelope, was seen as a major factor by most veterinarians and also by many farmers. Both groups identified the movement of livestock and wildlife as an increasingly important factor that should be of major concern for both industries because it leads to the avoidable spread of many diseases apart from heartwater.
Conclusion: Movement controls should be reinstated and reinforced by vigorously enforced legislation. The role of genetically determined resistance or resilience to heartwater infection in ruminants should be investigated. Breeding better adapted animals could provide part of a sustainable approach to the disease.