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Final Tool to Tackle Widespread Mycoplasma bovis

Mycoplasma bovis is more widespread than previously thought, affecting beef and dairy cattle across the country, according to results from a new surveillance programme. And it can be easily detected through bulk milk serology testing, which the results suggest may be more sensitive than other forms of testing.

“For a few years, I have suspected that M. bovis is more prevalent than expected,” explains Graeme Fowlie, director of Meadows Vets in Aberdeenshire. “And from working with vets across the country taking part in the surveillance programme, it’s become clear that that is the case.” The results, from vet practices across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, show that M. bovis is present in every region, in both beef and dairy herds. “It is probably present in your area, so you should be aware of it.”

The disease causes pneumonia, mastitis, swelling, sore joints and otitis, and can also be responsible for a range of chronic underlying health issues, which have a significant impact on welfare and productivity.

As part of the surveillance programme, vets were offered free M. bovis tests, regardless of whether herds were exhibiting signs of disease or not. Of the 41 farms from across the UK taking part, 18 tested positive, six were inconclusive or void, and 17 were negative. But the results also revealed that some types of analysis were more sensitive than others.

Of the 25 blood tests, 52% were positive while 20% were inconclusive and 28% were negative – despite the fact that eight of those negative/ inconclusive results were from farms with symptomatic animals. An interesting result was that the five bulk milk serology tests all came back positive. The 11 PCR tests – mainly of bulk milk samples – failed to show a single positive result. Ben Pedley, Farm Clinical Director at Willows Farm Vets, Cheshire, says: “In the past two years we have found M. bovis on a number of farms after PCR testing lung samples taken post-mortem from pneumonia cases. Since diagnosing the infection, calf pneumonia on these units has been greatly reduced via management changes including specific vaccination programmes for Mycoplasma.”