This is a term describing a systemic infection which starts at the navel and causes other symptoms throughout the body. It is prevented by careful application of iodine or other antiseptic to the navel at birth and keeping the newborn kid in a clean environment until the navel is dried and no longer susceptible to bacterial penetration. It is frequently accompanied by a high fever and painful, swollen joints. It is a VERY serious ailment and should be treated immediately and aggressively.
Since the disease can be caused by any number of organisms it is really not practical to search for the cause. The organisms can even enter other wounds or be ingested. There is some thinking than maternal uterine infections can be causative.
You may first notice a fever as high as 106 degrees. The kid may stop sucking. There may be thickening with or without pus around the navel. It may show some lameness and stand with a "tucked up" appearance with swollen and painful joints. There may be a rapid pulse and breathing. In severe cases there may be a discharge from the joints.
Begin immediate treatment with penicillin at least every 8 hours for five days. Some sources say to give the penicillin every 3 hours the first day or so. Drain but do not lance any abscesses at the umbilicus. If it is fly season, you will have to use something to keep flies from laying eggs there. If there is also diarrhea, you can add sulfa to the treatment routine.
Since this disease is so serious, if there is any herniation at birth or anything leading you to suspect that the kid may be a likely candidate for navel ill, you should start a regimen of penicillin right away.
If it is any encouragement, we were able to cure a calf with severe navel ill by aggressive treatment with penicillin as outlined above.