Kenny Barrett Jr., DVM, MS

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May 28, 2010
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Herpes virus of cattle

Most herpes viruses are parasitic to a specific host species. They are ubiquitous in nature with many species affected by their unwelcome guest. Everyone knows someone chronically nagged with a winter-time cold sore. Cold sores are one example of a herpes virus. Like diamonds, herpes are forever. So, people that suffer from cold sores will do so forever.

The herpes virus of cattle is called infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus or IBR. Rhinotracheitis refers to inflammation of the nose and trachea (windpipe). Producers often refer to IBR as "red nose" stemming from the blood-tinged nasal secretions occasionally observed from affected animals. IBR is ever-present and everywhere in cattle, especially during the feeding phase of production. And, as a herpes virus, infected animals are infected for life. IBR was first identified during the 1950's in Colorado causing pneumonia. There are six known types of cattle herpes viruses that affect different organ systems. Diseases that occur include pneumonia, conjunctivitis (pink-eye like lesions), abortion, neurologic disease, and other less common symptoms.

In the case of pneumonia, IBR attacks the cells lining the nose and trachea. The immune system usually wards off the viral attack but some individuals succumb to further disease. The damage creates holes in the physical barrier allowing entry of secondary invaders. The damaged trachea now resembles a sewer pipe rather than a crisp clean portal for oxygen delivery. Once damaged, the specialized cells lining the trachea can no longer sweep foreign material and bacteria up to the mouth to be swallowed or coughed out. Bacteria causing pneumonia ride the sewer slide to the lungs and hang their shingle. A pneumonic tango results, a duel between life and death teetering on a variety of biological factors. If the immune system wins the IBR virus travels along nerves and hides in the nervous tissue in an inactive state. Stressful conditions send signals to the virus and it can reemerge to cause clinical disease once again, herpes is forever. If the virus wins the animal will need to ward off a barrage of bacteria to prevent bacterial pneumonia.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus is spread through body secretions, primarily saliva and nasal discharge. Think of the national flu ad campaign showing video of people coughing taken with high-speed cameras. When a calf infected with IBR coughs, it spews forth a vast cloud of tiny droplets containing the viral parasite. Viruses require their host cells to survive and cannot survive in the external environment for very long. As a result, transmission occurs when individuals are housed in close quarters like soldiers stacked in a C130. This partially explains the increased disease incidence in commingled cattle on feed.

As a virus, there is no commercially available treatment. Instead, the primary effort is in preventing infection and controlling secondary bacterial infections. There are a number of vaccines on the market - both killed and modified-live - producers can use to arm their cattle with a primed immune system. However, there are very few instances where vaccination prevents infection. IBR vaccines are considered exceptionally effective but do not prevent infection. Vaccines are designed to prevent clinical signs of infection. Cattlemen need to account for this and work with their veterinarian to successfully vaccinate their cattle using good technique, at the optimal time, and under the least stress possible. Again, you can vaccinate a watermelon but you can't immunize one.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus is a herpes virus causing a variety of clinical diseases. Cow-calf and feedlot producers are most likely to encounter IBR as a primary agent leading to pneumonia. The virus is ubiquitous in the cattle population and therefore a potential problem for all cattle operations. Treatment is aimed at secondary bacterial infections with the primary thrust being prevention. There are numerous vaccines available stimulating and priming the immune system to deal with IBR challenges. Producers need to work with their veterinarian to formulate a complete herd health plan. Remember, herpes is forever.

Most herpes viruses are parasitic to a specific host species. They are ubiquitous in nature with many species affected by their unwelcome guest. Everyone knows someone chronically nagged with a winter-time cold sore. Cold sores are one example of a herpes virus. Like diamonds, herpes are forever. So, people that suffer from cold sores will do so forever.

The herpes virus of cattle is called infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus or IBR. Rhinotracheitis refers to inflammation of the nose and trachea (windpipe). Producers often refer to IBR as "red nose" stemming from the blood-tinged nasal secretions occasionally observed from affected animals. IBR is ever-present and everywhere in cattle, especially during the feeding phase of production. And, as a herpes virus, infected animals are infected for life. IBR was first identified during the 1950's in Colorado causing pneumonia. There are six known types of cattle herpes viruses that affect different organ systems. Diseases that occur include pneumonia, conjunctivitis (pink-eye like lesions), abortion, neurologic disease, and other less common symptoms.

In the case of pneumonia, IBR attacks the cells lining the nose and trachea. The immune system usually wards off the viral attack but some individuals succumb to further disease. The damage creates holes in the physical barrier allowing entry of secondary invaders. The damaged trachea now resembles a sewer pipe rather than a crisp clean portal for oxygen delivery. Once damaged, the specialized cells lining the trachea can no longer sweep foreign material and bacteria up to the mouth to be swallowed or coughed out. Bacteria causing pneumonia ride the sewer slide to the lungs and hang their shingle. A pneumonic tango results, a duel between life and death teetering on a variety of biological factors. If the immune system wins the IBR virus travels along nerves and hides in the nervous tissue in an inactive state. Stressful conditions send signals to the virus and it can reemerge to cause clinical disease once again, herpes is forever. If the virus wins the animal will need to ward off a barrage of bacteria to prevent bacterial pneumonia.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus is spread through body secretions, primarily saliva and nasal discharge. Think of the national flu ad campaign showing video of people coughing taken with high-speed cameras. When a calf infected with IBR coughs, it spews forth a vast cloud of tiny droplets containing the viral parasite. Viruses require their host cells to survive and cannot survive in the external environment for very long. As a result, transmission occurs when individuals are housed in close quarters like soldiers stacked in a C130. This partially explains the increased disease incidence in commingled cattle on feed.

As a virus, there is no commercially available treatment. Instead, the primary effort is in preventing infection and controlling secondary bacterial infections. There are a number of vaccines on the market - both killed and modified-live - producers can use to arm their cattle with a primed immune system. However, there are very few instances where vaccination prevents infection. IBR vaccines are considered exceptionally effective but do not prevent infection. Vaccines are designed to prevent clinical signs of infection. Cattlemen need to account for this and work with their veterinarian to successfully vaccinate their cattle using good technique, at the optimal time, and under the least stress possible. Again, you can vaccinate a watermelon but you can't immunize one.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus is a herpes virus causing a variety of clinical diseases. Cow-calf and feedlot producers are most likely to encounter IBR as a primary agent leading to pneumonia. The virus is ubiquitous in the cattle population and therefore a potential problem for all cattle operations. Treatment is aimed at secondary bacterial infections with the primary thrust being prevention. There are numerous vaccines available stimulating and priming the immune system to deal with IBR challenges. Producers need to work with their veterinarian to formulate a complete herd health plan. Remember, herpes is forever.


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Tri-State Livestock News Updated Aug 14, 2012 03:48PM Published May 28, 2010 12:45PM Copyright 2010 Tri-State Livestock News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.