Bovine Ephemeral Fever (Three-day stiff sickness)



Bovine Ephemeral Fever, more commonly known as Three-day stiff sickness, is a viral disease affecting cattle in Southern Africa. The disease is an arthropod borne Rhabdovirus and is characterized by a short duration fever, stiffness, lethargy, recumbency but almost always results in complete recovery.


Outbreaks of three-day stiff sickness are related to seasonal patterns. Since the virus is transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes and midges, high rainfall areas experience this problem more frequently than the drier areas of Southern Africa.



Clinical Signs:

Three-day stiff sickness in most cases is self-limiting, meaning the animal will recover uneventfully without serious complications. Individual animals show a wide variety of clinical signs, but the onset is always rapid, characterized by a rapid rise in the animal’s body temperature. The animals usually have two or more febrile peaks 12-24 hours apart. During the initial febrile phase, the symptoms are usually mild and go unnoticed. During the second febrile peak, stiffness, lethargy, and anorexia is noticeable. Heavier animals with good body condition scores are usually more severely affected as compared to light weight cattle. Heavier animals will initially lie down in sternal recumbency which will progress to lateral recumbency as the disease progresses.



A multimodal approach is preferred in these cases. The disease is extremely painful, so pain management is the first method of treatment. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug should be administered, following a prescription from your veterinarian. Always ensure the animal is hydrated before administering these types of medications. Animals affected with three-day stiff sickness are almost always sub-clinically hypocalcemic and this metabolic disturbance contributes to the animals not being able to get up, as we also see in cases of milk fever. Treatment with Calcium-Borogluconate administered subcutaneously or via slow intravenous injection will help to correct the hypocalcemia. Keep in mind, repeat doses of calcium borogluconate may be necessary in severe cases. No medications should be given orally as the animals swallowing reflex may be affected because of the hypocalcemia. Lastly, always remember to let the animal rest with the provision of food and water in close proximity. This good old recipe is still the best!



  1. As this virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and midges, vector control remains a top priority.
  2. Vaccination of herds in endemic areas is a possibility. Immunization should be done in the spring to ensure sufficient level of protection is achieved during the summer and autumn months when the disease transmission through herds is at its highest.

Dr Jarred Morris


BVSc MSc(Agric)