Red Water Fever in Cattle

A parasitic disease, red water fever, or babesiosis, occurs when a single-celled parasite gains admission into the cow's body via a tick bite. The parasite occurs predominately in subtropical and tropical locations. Three protozoan species commonly cause red water fever, Babesia bovis, Babesia bigemina and Babesia divergens. The species B. ovata, B. jakimovi, B. occultans and B. major also can affect cattle, but it's rare. The parasite invades the red blood cells of the host cow and causes them to divide, which eventually results in the rupture of the cell.

Symptoms and Effects

Within two to three weeks suffering a tick bite, the cow will begin to show symptoms and side effects from the parasite. A high temperature usually manifests first. The cow may suffer diarrhoea, which will persist for 36 hours, and then the cow will become constipated, according to the Cattle Site. The cow will begin to pass blood-filled urine that is caused from the rupturing blood cells within its body. Pregnant cows will suffer abortion once infected. The mucus membranes of the cow appear pale in colour and its respiration will increase.


A necropsy that will analyse the cow's blood and brain can help determine if red water fever was the cause of its death. Blood smears will be collected from live animals to help make a diagnosis. Blood tests can easily reveal the presence of the parasite, according to the Iowa State University. The veterinarian also will evaluate the overall symptoms of the sick cow.

Cerebral Babesiosis Warning

Cerebral babesiosis is almost always fatal in infected cows, according to the Queensland Government. The infected animal will show different symptoms from common red water fever because the animal's nervous system also is effected. The cow often will toss its head continuously, circle, show aggression, suffer convulsions and have paralysis.

Control and Treatment

Vaccines are available in many parts of the world to help prevent red water fever in cattle. Live attenuated B. bovis vaccine works well when administered to young cattle. In 1943, the parasite was completely eradicated from the United States and is no longer a problem. In many areas of the world, however, the parasite persists and causes wide spread morbidity. Once a cow is infected, it can be prescribed anti-parasitic drugs to help treat the condition.


The parasite can be prevented by good tick control. Elimination of the tick hosts will cause the parasite to die out eventually. In the United States, the disease was eradicated by maintaining a treatment schedule using acaricides for all cattle every two to three weeks, according to the Iowa State University.

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About the Author

Based in Oregon, Kimberly Sharpe has been a writer since 2006. She writes for numerous online publications. Her writing has a strong focus on home improvement, gardening, parenting, pets and travel. She has traveled extensively to such places as India and Sri Lanka to widen and enhance her writing and knowledge base.