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Brucellosis Testing and Research Expanding in Wyoming
November 22, 2011 — When two heifers on a ranch near Meeteetse tested positive for exposure to brucellosis this fall, technicians from the University of Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory quickly tested more than 320 other cattle in the area in addition to the 250 tested in the source herd and determined that the disease had not spread.
A year earlier, more than 4,200 animals were tested shortly after brucellosis was reported in northern Wyoming, says Walt Cook, who coordinates brucellosis research at UW.
The ability to conduct such rapid testing is one example of how legislative support to combat brucellosis is paying off to the benefit of the state's cattle producers, Cook says. He says brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause domestic cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves. Elk and bison of the greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are a reservoir of brucellosis in the United States, so the disease is a concern for cattle producers in that area.
"A few years ago, Wyoming's State Veterinary Laboratory would not have been able to make such a quick diagnosis to determine the presence or absence of brucellosis in so many cattle, but the lab's capabilities have expanded in recent years to allow for rapid testing of large numbers of animals," he says. "Wyoming has also expanded its routine brucellosis testing surveillance in the area, and we are now able to identify positive exposure to the disease before it can spread."
In October, the state veterinary laboratory tested nearly 9,400 animals for brucellosis. Cook says this included animals under quarantine as a result of being affected or that had contact with affected herds as well as those tested for general surveillance and to meet Wyoming Livestock Board requirements.
Cook attributes much of the success to the collaboration among UW, the Wyoming Livestock Board and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
"This spirit of cooperation is somewhat unique and very valuable for brucellosis control and research," he says.
Cook assists UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey in his role as chairman of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team and the Consortium for the Advancement of Brucellosis Science (CABS).
CABS is dedicated to finding additional brucellosis funding sources and funneling those resources to the most appropriate areas, Cook says. It oversees and coordinates research to develop vaccines, vaccine delivery strategies and diagnostic testing for brucellosis in cattle, elk and wild bison. Two teams have been formed, one involving scientists nationwide who have expertise in this topic, and the other consists of stakeholders interested in seeing the vaccine and tests developed.
The Wyoming State Legislature in 2010 approved $200,000 to initiate the consortium, and $400,000 in one-time funding was approved during the 2011-2012 biennium to support vaccine research. UW researchers are working to develop a more effective brucellosis vaccine and improved diagnostic tests.
Current vaccines are marginally effective at best, Cook says, but he adds that Assistant Professor Gerry Andrews and his team in the UW Department of Veterinary Sciences have developed good vaccine candidates.
Additional research is intended to develop a rapid, easy to use, and more accurate animal-side test for brucellosis that would permit quick identification rather than holding animals, particularly wildlife, pending the results of lab tests. Support for this research will help make UW competitive for CABS funds when the consortium is able to attract outside support.
Development of a better vaccine is not likely to be economically feasible in the private sector. The market for this sort of vaccine, with its potential use in only three mountain states, would not justify the costs of research and development that will be required, Cook says.
The United States Animal Health Association sponsored the "Laramie Agenda" that provides a roadmap for improved vaccines and improving vaccine delivery and diagnostic testing. The agenda suggests steady funding to assemble and manage resources and direct the consortium needed to do the research.
Such funding would support continued research to develop a more effective vaccine, and also continue an ongoing project with a number of producers to see how often adult animals will require re-vaccination with the currently available vaccine to maintain immunity from the disease.
University of Wyoming Laboratory Assistant Tracy Dunn performs diagnostic testing for brucellosis at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory. In October, the state veterinary laboratory tested nearly 9,400 animals for brucellosis. (UW Photo)