Malignant edema is a quickly fatal disease caused by infection of the wound by a type of bacteria, clostridium septicum. It generally affects grazing animals, most commonly sheep, and other cattle. However, there are also cases of infection in human causing malignant edema.
The bacteria clostridium septicum is naturally present in the soil and in the intestines and excreta of animals all over the world. When the soil or substances containing it comes in contact with wounds in humans or animals, the bacteria enter the body through the wound. In humans, contact is usually by the handling of animals and raw animal products like skin.
Symptoms of malignant edema
The first symptoms of malignant edema can be seen very soon after the infection; it usually takes 6 to 48 hours for the symptoms to show. Early symptoms include hot, painful swellings local lesions at the points of infection, high fever, loss of appetite, a drop in milk secretion, severe depression, difficulty in breathing, convulsions, anorexia, and intoxication. These local lesions are soft to touch and pit under pressing with a bit of pressure.
They are formed by fluid buildup under the skin and, as such, they extend rapidly in size, and the color of skin in the affected area turns dark brown or blackish. The bacteria attacks the soft tissues and muscles, and these muscle infections can be very painful. Most infected animals and humans, if not treated early at the onset of the symptoms, die within one to three days.
Diagnosis of malignant edema
Clinical diagnosis or confirmation of malignant edema can be difficult at times because of its similarity to other conditions such as anthrax, septicemia, blackleg, and other gas edemas. The best chance of confirming malignant edema and avoiding confusing and mistaking it for other conditions is by laboratory test of samples from the patient.
Treatment of malignant edema
Even though administering antibiotics at the early stages of the disease is definitely helpful, the efficiency of the treatment is largely dependant on the time factor, and treatment after signs of advanced symptoms is often of no use to save a life.
Vaccination is available in the form of bacterins or clostridium septicum bacterin, prepared from the bacteria. Vaccination of cattle in high-risk areas should be ensured to prevent chances of animals developing the disease and infecting humans.
The living areas of cattle should be properly looked after to reduce chances of the animals or human beings getting their skin punctured in the vicinity. For example, nails sticking out, or sharp, pointed ends of timber can easily cause small wounds or punctures enough for the bacteria to infect. Even in such cases, the danger of exposure to the bacteria can be significantly lowered by immediate treatment of wounds or punctures. Such wounds should be immediately cleaned, covered and treated with antiseptic
or antibacterial medication.
Another successful preventive measure for humans is a habitual usage of rubber gloves and rubber boots or similar preventive clothing when working with animals. Regular usage of disinfectant on the person and the working area is also highly recommended.
The high fatality rate and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of the disease, educated awareness about the disease and knowledge of actions to take in case of exposure would mean the difference between life and death. Remember that false alarm doesn’t kill you, but failure to act in time could. So, after reading this article and understanding the possible symptoms of malignant edema, if you suspect the disease in your cattle or maybe yourself, seek professional help immediately.