Agricultural Research Service scientists are ready to take their efforts to the next level in order to find a way to eradicate bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV).

According to microbiologist Julia Ridpath of ARS’ NationalAnimalDiseaseCenter in Ames, Iowa, decades of vaccination and voluntary control programs aimed at eliminating the virus from the United States have not worked. There's no treatment for BVDV, which costs U.S. cattle producers millions of dollars in losses each year.

BVDV causes animal diseases that affect reproduction and nutrition, milk production and respiratory function. Pregnant cows that are infected can have spontaneous abortions or give birth prematurely, while calves born with BVDV may be persistent carriers that can infect additional herds.

What’s needed is an extensive management program encompassing vigilance, biosecurity education and continued research, says Ridpath. She recently launched a study with the Northeast Iowa Community-Based Dairy Foundation in Calmar, focusing on newborn calves’ response to BVDV vaccination. This study is the subject of a cooperative research and development agreement that runs through 2006.

In addition, microbiologist John Neill is applying a method that detects alterations in cancer cells in humans toward understanding disease mechanisms in animals infected with the virus. Called SAGE -- serial analysis of gene expression -- this technology was developed in the mid-1990s for detecting gene-expression alterations that tell how cancer cells differ from normal cells.  

Neill is using SAGE to compare cattle gene expression in normal cells to that in BVDV-infected cells. He’s also studying the pathology and immunosuppressive properties of the virus -- work that may lead to a simple serum test for rapidly detecting persistently infected animals and improved vaccines.

You can read more about this research project in the January 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:

Agricultural Research Service