Five good reasons to ...

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It is a contagious, costly disease of animals that also affects humans. It is spread by direct contact with infected animals or with an environment that has been contaminated with discharges from infected animals. There were 124,000 infected herds in the United States in 1956. By 1992, this number dropped to 700 herds. On Oct. 31, 2002, there were no known affected herds remaining in the entire United States… so why should you continue to vaccinate for Brucellosis? Here are five considerations.

1. Sure, the threat of Brucellosis is low within the United States. But it is a threat nonetheless. Brucellosis is prevalent across our southern border and many foreign countries. Additionally, there is still Brucellosis within our border. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services National Brucellosis Surveillance Strategy of December 2010 gave a national prevalence of 0.0001 percent. The last known focus of Brucellosis abortus was in wild elk and bison in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

2. There are numerous states that do not accept dairy cattle that have not been calfhood vaccinated for Brucellosis. For best results, female calves should be vaccinated between four to six months of age. However, females may be vaccinated up to 12 months of age. Vaccination is not only an insurance policy against potential infection, but also against trade barriers. There is a perceived higher value for vaccinated heifers as compared to non-vaccinated heifers for this reason.

3. “Vaccination is just a way for veterinarians to make money.” It is true that the vaccine is only available to accredited veterinarians or state or federal animal health officials. One reason for this is that the vaccine is modified-live and poses some risk to those performing the administration. In most herds, several other activities take place during vaccination. Four to six months is a good time to do pre-breeding evaluations. What other vaccines are necessary pre-breeding? Are there any health issues that have slipped by unnoticed after weaning? Are the heifers adequate-sized? Is there a dehorning that was missed or extra teats on the developing udder?

4. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease. This means that it can be passed from cattle to humans. The combination of pasteurization of milk and progress in the eradication of the disease in livestock has resulted in substantially few human cases than in the past. Ninety-eight cases of human Brucellosis were reported in 1997. Many of these are people who have traveled internationally and ingested unpasteurized dairy products. The dairy industry certainly does not want to be the center of a documented infection of undulant fever in the United States.

5. Orange metal ear tags are all the rage these days in the heifer lots. They are optional, however. Check with your veterinarian to see if your RFID tag will qualify as official identification.

Angela M. Daniels is a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters LLC, a dairy and swine veterinary practice, food safety laboratory and DHIA milk-testing and contract research organization in Dalhart, Texas.

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Scott K. Curtis MS DVM    
Winslow Maine  |  May, 07, 2012 at 03:01 PM

Yes I agree that these are advantages. However, the advantages can still be realized with additional or upgraded management practices without the need for Brucellosis calfhood vaccination. I believe that the position taken on the practice of Brucellosis calfhood vaccination will vary among industry officials and farm operators as well as veterinarians but I believe that many of the advantages are relatively short-sighted(ie., protecting an individual herd from the disease) and can be accomplished with more intense management practices, biosecurity, and oversight. Personally I believe that the states which do not accept heifers with no Brucellosis vaccination history are or will eventually accept them from Brucellosis free states. I also believe, through converstions with several State and Area Veterinarians In Charge(regional USDA-APHIS), that the threat of any outbreak of the disease (Brucellosis) will more quickly be identified and managed when the cattle population is susceptible than in regions where there is a relatively high population of Brucelosis calfhood vaccinated cows which would allow the disease to remain below the radar, delaying its identification, and greatly expanding any attempts at quarantine and control. I realize that the herds exposed to the disease would be index cases and would suffer economically but, on the other hand, control , quarantine, and management of the initial outbreak would be more efficiently undertaken, thus protecting many many regional herds from the disease.

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