Malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) is reviewed and recent findings described. It is defined as a fatal disease which affects many species of Bovidae and Cervidae, characterized by widespread necrosis and lymphoid cell proliferation and can be caused by at least two infectious agents. In Africa, a herpesvirus which infects its natural host, the wildebeest, without obvious symptoms causes substantial losses in cattle due to MCF. Elsewhere, the cause of MCF is unknown but circumstantial evidence implicates sheep as the source of infection. While cattle are infected only sporadically with this “sheep-associated” form ol disease, infection of farmed deer is common, representing the most serious disease threat to the industry.
It is considered that infection of sheep and wildebeest with their respective agents operates to their advantage, causing no disease in their natural host, while transmission to other ungulates has fatal consequences, eliminating these potentially competitive species.
Recent studies of the disease in deer and the transmission of MCF from deer to rabbits are described. The evidence suggests that the disease process involves a novel dysfunction of the immune system which results in a massive lymphoid proliferation and an atopic allergic response. It is considered that similar processes may also be involved as a component of other diseases of man and animals.