Volume 3, Number 37 - December 11, 2003
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Boulder herd infected with brucellosis
State and federal animal health officials confirmed late last week that a Sublette County cattle herd is infected with brucellosis, according to Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan.
"We know we have an infected herd," said Logan.
Logan reported that after testing 391 head of cattle on Don Jensen's Boulder-area cattle ranch, the final count included 29 positive brucellosis reactors.
Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that causes abortion in ungulates, of which there is no cure. It's been the subject of a national eradication effort since the 1930s and has been nearly eliminated from the nation's livestock, although a reservoir of the disease survives in wildlife populations in the Yellowstone region. Preventative measures call for veterinarians to administer the vaccination of heifer cattle, but the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service notes that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, although it does increase the animal's resistance to the disease.
Some of the Jensen herd's reactors had been vaccinated with RB51, the new vaccine approved for use in 1996, while the others had used the older vaccine, Strain 19. Logan said this should help to quell the notion that the brucellosis infection was the result of the failure of the new vaccine.
"It is absolutely not a failure of RB51," Logan said, since the disease apparently overwhelmed both the vaccines.
Brucellosis is transmitted by direct contact with infected animals or with an environment that has been contaminated with discharges from infected animals.
All the reactors will have to be destroyed, Logan said, but the disposition of the rest of the quarantined herd is not definite.
The herd can either be "depopulated," which means sent to slaughter, or can be retained by the owner, with an extended quarantine and repeated testing program.
On Monday, Logan said that the reactors in the herd will be retested since criticism has been raised about the protocol used in the bleeding that was conducted at Jensen's ranch.
It was reported that federal animal health officials did not use individual syringes in drawing blood samples, but instead used a lesser number of syringes, flushing them with a disinfecting solution.
An APHIS spokeswoman said that her agency "is looking into the situation," and Logan said his agency is investigating the matter as well.
"If that's the case ... there is no damned excuse, anywhere, for it," Logan said, adding that in his view, flushing the syringes with a disinfectant isn't a proper protocol.
Logan said the action could possibly cause contamination of other members of the herd, "but in the long-term, it's not going to change the fact that it's an infected herd."
Although Logan made the infected herd declaration, he pointed out that federal officials had not made the same declaration at this point. Although federal officials were awaiting completion of several more confirmatory tests at a federal lab, any federal declaration will probably now be on hold until the Jensen herd reactors are re-bled and those test results confirmed.
"Once they designate, Wyoming only has a 60-day time frame to get all the other testing done," Logan said, in an effort to preserve its brucellosis-free status.
Brucellosis-free status allows the free movement of Wyoming cattle, without added testing requirements. APHIS controls the state's brucellosis classification, but the state is delegated quarantine responsibilities.
When asked at what point federal officials would revoke Wyoming's brucellosis-free status, Logan said: "One more cow in another herd. That's it, and we don't have a choice."
The state is also currently investigating the possibility of another infected animal, although apparently not from Jensen's herd. A test at slaughter reportedly revealed a high titer, and a traceback revealed the animal had been sold through a Wyoming sale barn, but by press time, it was not known where the animal had originated.
Any other livestock herds that have come into contact with the Jensen herd are required to be tested for brucellosis, Logan said, and probably more than once. As animal health officials trace out contact herds from various grazing allotments and movement of cattle from the area, there are more contact herds that will have to be tested, Logan said.
"It's going to be a big job," Logan said.
Governor Dave Freudenthal said Thursday that he had been apprised of the situation, but said it's too soon to know the impact on Wyoming's cattle industry.
Freudenthal said, "This is an incredibly serious problem and one that we have to deal with."
He noted that Colorado animal health officials had already issued an order prohibiting the movement of any Sublette County, northern Lincoln County or Teton County-area cattle into Colorado. Colorado also imposed additional requirements on cattle originating from other areas of Wyoming, and took this action before the infected herd was confirmed.
Freudenthal suggested the state would need to take action to limit the area of Wyoming in which other states would feel compelled to impose restrictions for. But that can't happen until the area of infection is better defined, he said, referring to the testing of neighboring herds.
"We're somewhat captive to the rate of testing at this point," he said.
The impact of a single infected herd "is somewhat grave," Freudenthal said, but "It obviously takes on significant additional impacts" if more herds are involved.
"We've got to get ahead of this as fast as we can," Freudenthal said.
On Sunday and Monday, the Arambel family's herd was tested for brucellosis, at the prompting of federal officials but at the consent of the herd owners. Later this week, another local Boulder herd, considered a contact herd, is scheduled to be tested as well. Neither of these two herds is under quarantine at this time and the results of the Arambel testing were not available at press time.
The contact herds and all sales and purchases from the infected herd will be tested, along with any animals the infected herd may have grazed with or shared a fenceline with, according to Logan. Testing one time probably won't be enough for neighboring herds, even if they test clean the first time, federal and state veterinarians said.
The federal government will pay the costs associated with testing these herds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the case of whole-herd depopulation, herd owners are offered one of two payment rates: the fixed rate or the appraisal method.
The fixed rate is $250 for non-registered cattle and up to $750 for registered cattle.
Under the appraisal method, each eligible animal will be appraised to determine its fair market value, and the indemnity shall be the appraised value minus the salvage value realized. The cost of the appraisals will be paid for by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Logan has scheduled a community meeting Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Pinedale Entertainment Center. All area livestock producers are urged to attend. Freudenthal is expected to attend the session, as is Senator Craig Thomas.
For continued coverage of the brucellosis issue, the Examiner will provide updates on the Internet at www.pinedaleonline.com and www.subletteexaminer.com.
See The Archives for past articles.
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