Brucellosis workshop addresses awareness, education in Park Co
The best solutions for brucellosis are awareness, identification and prevention, according to a panel of experts who addressed a crowd of over 50 people in Cody on Feb. 10.
Members of the panel included Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan and Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Bob Meyer, Walt Cook of the UW Consortium for the Advancement of Brucellosis Science, John Duncan of USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Brian Nesvik, Regional Wildlife Supervisor in Cody for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), Joe Thomas, Meeteetse rancher and member of the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Rory Karhu with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The local small acreage task force, comprised of UW Extension, Park County Weed and Pest and Park County conservation districts sponsored the brucellosis workshop titled “Strategies for Progress.” The focus was on solutions for brucellosis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that can cause cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves. The infection can also seriously affect humans in the form of undulant fever.
“In the 1970s, brucellosis was rampant essentially across the country, and few states were brucellosis-free,” recalled Logan. “This area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is the only reservoir of field strain brucellosis left in this country, with one exception. As of last week, the state of Texas, which was free for nearly five years, found one case in the very southern tip of Texas. That’s a huge improvement. We’ve implemented a state and federal cooperative program, and we’ve achieved eradication in this country in livestock, and that’s a big accomplishment.”
Awareness and education are key. “Almost every single producer who gets brucellosis in their herd has not been to an educational meeting,” explained Logan. “We need to do a better job on education. This is not an issue that will go away. Wyoming continues to have brucellosis cases because of the wildlife reservoir. Other states continue to be very concerned about brucellosis in this area, and rightly so. They are interested in what Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are doing to keep it contained within our designated surveillance areas (DSAs).”
Other states are requesting identification and traceability in certain cattle from Wyoming. Colorado is on the verge of requiring all cattle from a DSA six months of age or older to be identified with an official brucellosis tag. Several states, including Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas are no longer taking feeder cattle out of the DSA without ID.
For nearly 12 years, Wyoming has had brucellosis rules, identification, testing, prevention and state livestock vaccination requirements within the DSA. APHIS and the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) both offer tags that provide livestock traceability.
“The Wyoming legislature has appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for brucellosis testing. We realize there are unseen costs for ranchers, but at least we have a legislature and governors who have helped us with appropriations, and we hope they will continue to do that,” said Logan.
Joe Thomas’s herd underwent brucellosis testing when brucellosis was discovered in a neighboring herd.
“It was stressful doing the testing, and the cattle were stressed, but Dr. Logan and Dr. Meyer are more than willing to get us through this. We have to get over whatever perception we have and work together. Luckily, we identified our cows and we have good health records, and I’m going to continue for the ability market those cattle,” he said.
“Rarely is one dose of a vaccination enough to protect a human or an animal,” said Duncan. “Vaccinating and boostering for brucellosis is important to help improve livestock’s resistance and exposure to the disease.”
Most of the cattle in the recently affected Wyoming herds had been vaccinated but not boostered.
In Herd 1, five brucellosis reactors and one suspect animal were located in a Park County cattle herd in October and November 2010. The suspect herd has since completed two rounds of testing, with the entire herd testing negative for the disease. The herd is still under quarantine, and will undergo further testing after calving.
In Herd 2, one Sublette County cow had a titer for brucellosis. The cow was slaughtered for further testing, but the brucella organism was not found. The state veterinarians tested the balance of that herd, and found no further evidence of the disease, and the herd was released from quarantine.
In Herd 3, bison from a privately owned herd in Park County tested positive for field strain brucella abortus. That herd is still under quarantine, and the owner is developing a herd plan, while animals are being tested, and those infected with the disease are removed.
“Everything was sort of quiet for a little while,” commented Cook, “and then we got a report from Montana animal health officials that one cow at a Billings livestock market responded positive to brucellosis tests. That cow originated in Park County in the DSA.”
That herd is under quarantine, and was still undergoing testing at press time.
“So far in the state, we’ve tested 15 or 16 herds and over 6,000 head of cattle total. The good news is we didn’t show any evidence of spread from those herds, or from infected herds to contact herds, and no further evidence of the disease,” Cook said.
Early on, preliminary epidemiology pointed to infected elk as the likely source of these infections.
Nesvick announced the WGFD received 530 blood samples from elk in the Cody area, and 343 of those, or 64.7 percent, were suitable for testing. Of those, 15.16 percent were seropositive for brucellosis, up less than one percent from last year.
Hank Edwards, Wildlife Disease Specialist at the Wyoming State Vet Lab, later confirmed these numbers and said that, although the numbers are preliminary, the lab has nearly completed the testing, and he does not expect the final numbers to change significantly, if at all.
“One of the best things we can do is prevent comingling (of wildlife and livestock), which can include hazing elk from the cattle feed line, keeping elk and cattle separated during key times of the year, and issuing more elk licenses,” says Nesvik.
“We have a respect for the folks who own the ground that supports our wildlife, and the WGFD is committed to work with all of you to minimize the pain. We want to work with landowners. Access for hunting is very important. If one ranch doesn’t allow access, that creates a reservoir of elk, and hunters on other area ranches don’t get a very good harvest,” continues Nesvik.
If producers discover an elk fetus, they are encouraged to avoid contact, secure a tarp over the site, and contact the WLSB immediately. The disease can be transferred through a fetus, placenta and fluids. The WLSB cautions producers to wear appropriate gloves and clothing when handling these substances.
Karhu explained he can help producers access funds to help with brucellosis. Jim Pehringer with USDA APHIS said he is checking into what he can do to help producers as well.