Abortion and Stillbirth (new)


A very common cause of abortion is Brucellosis, which can also infect humans. Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by the Brucella bacteria. There are many other infectious abortions. But most labs in the country/region routinely only diagnose few causes of abortion other than Brucella (e.g. caused by bacteria or parasites such as Campylobacter, Trichomonas). However, close observation and submitting a full history together with the samples will help alert the lab on the possible involvement of other abortion agents (e.g. Rift Valley Fever).

An abortion is referred to as an elective or voluntary abortion when it is performed at the request of the woman for non-medical reasons. Confusion sometimes arises over the term elective because “elective surgery” generally refers to all scheduled surgery, whether medically necessary or not.

Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus. An abortion that occurs without intervention is known as a miscarriage or “spontaneous abortion”; these occur in approximately 30% to 40% of all pregnancies

Severe general infections of the pregnant dam that cause high fever such as Anaplasmosis, East Coast Fever, Pox and acute Mastitis may also lead to abortion. Sometimes abortion can also have non-infectious causes.

Abortion can occur at very different stages of pregnancy. Very early abortion when the embryo is not yet fully developed and is invisible to the naked eye is called early embryonic death. Most cases of abortion occur later during pregnancy; the foetus looks like a miniature calf but is not developed enough to live. In stillbirth the mother expels a fully developed calf that died before it was born (clear sign: it does not even attempt to breathe).

Single isolated cases of abortion can occur for many reasons and do not always require laboratory diagnosis. But when several animals abort one should consult a veterinarian, laboratory or Animal Health Assistant and request a diagnosis, especially if abortions occur around the same time.

SPREAD: TO AVOID SPREAD OF ABORTION to other animals the foetus and all abortion/stillbirth materials (incl. liquid) must be removed and disposed of by burning or deep burying (deep enough to protect from dogs and other scavengers). If the abortion has occurred inside a stable the floor must be disinfected. If the stable has a compacted earth floor remove the top layer of the floor and dispose of safely. Immediately separate the abortion animal from the rest of the herd!

 DANGER: MOST ABORTIONS ARE INFECTIOUS AND VERY DANGEROUS FOR HUMANS. Collecting abortion samples is best done by a veterinarian or an Animal Health Assistant. It is often necessary to also collect a blood sample from the animal that has aborted. When handling the expelled foetus and placenta after an abortion, make sure that you wear plastic gloves and do not touch any of the tissues and liquids with bare hands. If you have accidentally touched abortion materials immediately wash and disinfect your hands. All tissue and samples to be taken to a laboratory must be safely stored in sealed plastic bags with no leakage (use double plastic bags or put plastic bags in a waterproof container).

General warning: 

Retained placenta is common after the abortion and often requires antibiotic treatment. Trying to forcibly remove the placenta without protective gloves and clothing exposes humans to severe infection risks and may also harm the animal. Do not foster calves, kids or lambs onto dams which have aborted! 

Milk from aborted animals is very often highly infectious for the young suckling animals and for humans.

Abortion organisms are mostly spread via uterine discharges, the afterbirth and the expelled foetus at abortion. Removing and burying or burning abortion materials from the stable or the Boma will prevent the organisms from infecting more pregnant animals. It is also important to disinfect the place where the abortion happened. Never touch abortion materials directly with your bare hands, always use protective gloves. 

There are many different names for abortion in local languages:
Embua: kuvuna / Luo: tuo bwogo / Kikuyu: muhono, kihuna / Maasai: aibiriu, olik ibiroto / Samburu: ikiboroto / Swahili: homa ya kutupa mamba / Turkana: akiyech / Maragoli: luhusidza / Luvugusu: livure / Nandi: sutonik /


Diagnosis of abortion requires professional help and laboratory examination. When you think there is an abortion problem consult a veterinarian/VO/DVO.

Laboratory diagnosis of abortion in livestock can be difficult and is not always successful. Often the aborted foetus is too decomposed or too contaminated to allow for a diagnosis. Toxic or genetic causes of abortion are very difficult to diagnose in the lab.

To confirm the presence of a particular abortion agent in a herd two blood samples should be taken from 10% of the animals that have aborted (2nd sample to be collected 2-3 weeks after 1st sample). – In lactating cattle Brucellosis can also be diagnosed from milk (see under Brucellosis).

Infectious Causes of Abortion

These may be divided into abortion caused by bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi.

Other severe general infections of the dam, such as Anaplasmosis, East Coast Fever, and acute Mastitis may also lead to foetal death and abortion.

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