Call for Scottish herds to take part in disease study

03 Mar 2020

Producers across Scotland are being asked to take part in a study to help scientists better understand the spread of Mycoplasma bovis in cattle.

Calves infected with Mycoplasma bovis (M bovis) can develop: pneumonia; middle-ear disease, resulting in a head tilt; and arthritis, with resultant reduced growth. And adult cattle can also develop mastitis.

Year-long study

With limited knowledge available on the distribution of M bovis throughout Scotland and how it may be spreading within and between farms, the veterinary services team at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) is looking for Scottish dairy herds to participate in a year-long study, consisting of bulk tank milk sampling and a short questionnaire on herd management.

Throughout the project, participating units will be provided with their own results via their registered vet practice.

Direct contact

The disease is spread between animals via a number of routes, with the most common being direct contact with an infected individual animal.

Infection is also spread in the milking parlour, in bedding and in feeding equipment, and there is evidence that milk and colostrum from infected cows is also a source of infection to calves.

Infected bulls

Semen from infected bulls has also been identified as a possible route of spread. A unique feature of M bovis is the absence of a cell wall, which means that some antibiotics, such as penicillin, are ineffective.

The disease can also alter its structure, allowing it to evade the cow’s immune system.

Carrier animals

Animals that recover from infection may become carriers of the pathogen and the existence of this carrier state is poorly understood, because these animals will show no symptoms but have the ability to spread infection to others.

“There is currently no national control scheme in place for this disease, and the results of this project will help develop more structured control plans to limit spread between and within herds, help manage the welfare and economic effects, and reduce the reliance on antimicrobials,” says SRUC’s Jessica Ireland-Hughes.

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