Injection basics: First do no harm

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On most dairy farms, there are a number of routine injections that are given on a regular basis. Vaccines, antibiotics, reproductive hormones, vitamin/mineral supplements and bST may all be given to a calf or cow at some time. We are giving these injections to prevent disease, improve health or improve production, but also want to avoid causing harm.

I often see individuals on the dairy giving injections in the wrong location, using the wrong-sized needle or not using a clean technique. Equally important is the storage of drugs and vaccines to maintain efficacy and prevent contamination of the product.

If injections are not given in the correct location or we do not follow some basic principles of hygiene, they can potentially cause a local bacterial infection (abscess formation or cellulitis), nerve paralysis or muscle soreness. In addition, injection-site lesions and abscesses have been estimated to cost the U.S. beef industry $4.2 million annually.

There are some basic principles that are important to review and follow regarding the correct way to administer an injection. 

1. Follow label directions for injection sites. It is clearly stated on the label as to where the injection should be given. Remember that giving an injection in a location that is not listed on the label constitutes extra-label use and may increase milk and/or slaughter withhold times. Most products are labeled for intramuscular (IM), subcutaneous (SQ- under the skin) or intravenous (IV) use. Certain products can be very irritating when given in the muscle. Use the subcutaneous route whenever possible.

2. If intramuscular injections must be given, use the neck muscles when possible. When giving injections in the hind muscles, avoid the division between the muscles as there is a risk of damaging the nerve that is in this location.

3. Be certain to follow the label for the maximum volume per injection site. If you inject more than recommended volume, the withholding times may be increased.

4. Follow dosing schedules. Antibiotics and other drugs are dosed by body weight. Use a weight tape or scale to determine body weight when needed. Use treatment protocols developed by your herd veterinarian to guide drug and dose selection.

5. Make sure that you use a new needle and syringe or that the needle and syringe are cleaned and disinfected between uses. In many herds, needles are not changed between injections, but it is important to keep hygiene in mind and change needles frequently. Dirty or dull needles cause muscle damage, which can lead to abscesses or possible clostridial infections.

6. When giving modified-live vaccines, always use a brand new syringe and needle as any disinfectant will inactivate the vaccine.

7. Check storage temperatures in the refrigerator. As a rule, animal health products that need refrigeration should be kept between 35 to 45 degrees F (2-7 degrees C) at all times. Freezing is very damaging to vaccines as the antigen (vaccine) can actually separate from the adjuvant (vaccine carrier), preventing the vaccine’s ability to stimulate an adequate immune response.

8. Unused mixed modified live vaccines should be discarded one hour after mixing as these are live vaccines and will not survive storage.

9. Expiration dates should be observed closely and all outdated products should be discarded. Killed vaccines should be disposed of within 10 days after opening. Vaccines that change color (loss of pink color, for example) should also be discarded as the color change indicates that the pH of the product has been compromised and the vaccine is no longer effective.

10. Use a thermometer to measure refrigerator temperature. Results of a recent survey of on-farm refrigerators showed that only 27 percent of the refrigerators tested were working properly. Seventy-three percent of 180 refrigerators observed did not store animal-health products at the correct temperature. This seems like a laundry list of some real basic points, but if not followed correctly we can lose the benefit of the animal health products we use or, in some cases, actually cause more harm. Review these principles with the animal health crew on a regular basis to ensure proper technique.


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