From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 35 - November 23, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

A year of brucellosis

by Cat Urbigkit

A year ago this week, the public learned that a Boulder-area cattle herd was infected with brucellosis. The herd of nearly 400 head was soon destroyed to reduce the risk of further outbreak, and forensics work eventually determined that transmission of the disease from elk on the nearby elk feedground had occurred.

As traceback work on the herd continued, several more cows from the herd were found on a terminal feedlot in Washakie County. That meant that Wyoming officially had two infected herds and Wyoming lost its brucellosis-free status. As a result, national attention once again focused on western Wyoming and its wildlife and livestock interactions, as well as the disease implications of those interactions.

Disease surveillance had to be stepped up, so an intensive brucellosis-testing program was enacted. The program led to the discovery of another infected cattle herd in Teton County. That 105-head herd was destroyed in July. Other contact herds were tested, with recent tests discovering another infected herd belonging to Jackson Hole Herefords. Both the ranch’s commercial and purebred cattle, believed to number more than 600 head, will probably be destroyed, according to Dr. Dwayne Oldham, Wyoming State Veterinarian. The owner of the cattle is given two choices: either enter a long-term quarantine and testing program or slaughter the herd. Most of the time, slaughter is the only viable option. If this option is chosen, federal animal health officials arrange to have the herd appraised and the owner receives an indemnity payment for the herd. The cattle are transported to a handling facility. Brucellosis does not affect the quality or safety of meat, so the meat can be salvaged.

It is believed that the two Teton County cattle herds had been in contact with brucellosis-infected wildlife, although epidemiological work will continue as animal health officials seek to learn the source of the outbreak.

Amid all the attention on western Wyoming, in late July, two cows from Campbell County entering a South Dakota sale barn were reported to have tested positive for brucellosis. Thus, another ranch family was faced with weighing their options for their 300-head herd. But this time, things weren’t so cut-and-dried. Campbell County is far from the Yellowstone region, which is known to harbor brucellosis-infected wildlife. Questions were raised, and as Oldham said, “Something doesn’t add up.”

The DNA fingerprint on the positive blood samples from Campbell County had a direct match with a domestic bison herd from South Dakota. The Campbell County herd had never been in contact with the South Dakota bison. The one connecting factor was the South Dakota lab: it had tested both the cattle and the bison. Could the test results be wrong because contamination had occurred?

The lab said no and a review of the lab couldn’t prove otherwise, but most Wyoming animal health officials and cattle producers don’t believe the Campbell County herds actually had brucellosis. The remainder of the herd has been tested twice now and all the animals have tested clean, as have another 2,000 head of neighboring cattle in five contact herds. The Campbell County herd remained under quarantine while animal health officials pondered how to address the situation.

Oldham received good news for the herd owner on Friday, when federal animal health officials concurred that, under the circumstances, the Campbell County herd should be released from quarantine. The herd will be subject to a continued herd plan for rebleeding after calving, but will no longer be quarantined.

Governor Dave Freudenthal said that he plans to request that the Wyoming Brucellosis Task Force remain in place for another year to monitor the implementation of its brucellosis prevention and control recommendations, due for release next month.

“It’s a problem that’s not going to go away,” Freudenthal said, but fortunately Wyoming is in a positive fiscal position, so it can afford to direct more money to the issue.

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