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Effects of vaginal Brucella ovis infection of red deer hinds on reproductive performance, and venereal transmission to stags

Authors: Stafford KJ, Collett MG, Wilson PR, Ridler AL, West DM
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 126-131, Aug 2002
Publisher: Taylor and Francis

Animal type: Deer, Livestock, Production animal, Ruminant
Subject Terms: Bacterial, Disease/defect, Infectious disease, Disease transmission, Epidemiology, Notifiable organisms/exotic disease, Reproduction, Reproduction - male, Venereal disease, Zoonosis, Public health
Article class: Scientific Article
AIMS: To investigate the effects of vaginal Brucella ovis infection on the reproductive performance of red deer (Cervus elaphus) hinds. To determine whether stags may become infected with B. ovis by venereal transmission from mating infected hinds.
METHODS: Thirty mixed-age red deer hinds serologically negative for B. ovis antibodies were synchronised for oestrus on 22 March 2000. B. ovis was inoculated into the vagina of each hind at oestrus and again, 18 days later. At oestrus, hinds were randomly allocated to six groups, each joined with a 16month-old red deer stag seronegative for B. ovis, for 55 days. Hinds were blood sampled and scanned for pregnancy using rectal ultrasonography at monthly intervals. Six pregnant and four non-pregnant hinds were slaughtered pre-calving and three hinds were slaughtered post-calving. Reproductive tracts and foetuses were examined grossly, histologically and microbiologically. Calves were identified and blood sampled within 3 days of birth. Hinds and calves were blood sampled in February and May 2001 and vaginal swabs were collected from hinds for B. ovis culture. Blood was collected from stags, 5 and 19 days after mating and semen was collected for B. ovis culture. The 17 remaining hinds were mated in 2001 to two mixed-age wapiti (Cervus canadensis) stags. Both stags were blood sampled after mating. Sera were tested in a B. ovis complement fixation test (CFT) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
RESULTS: All 30 hinds developed B. ovis antibody levels, measurable using either the CFT or ELISA, but these did not remain elevated. There was no evidence of infection, either by gross pathology, histopathology or microbiological culture in the ten hinds or six foetuses slaughtered pre-calving. All remaining 20 hinds produced normal calves, 15 of which survived until weaning. Three hinds experienced dystocia and gave birth to dead calves and two calves died within 4 days of birth. One hind which had dystocia was euthanased. Samples from this hind and from 3/5 dead calves showed no evidence of B. ovis infection. B. ovis was cultured from the vagina of 1/19 hinds 48 weeks after inoculation, at which time B. ovis CFT and ELISA results for this hind were negative. Most calves had B. ovis serum antibodies at 1-3 days of age but levels were negligible when sampled at 10-15 weeks of age. Foetuses and dead calves were all seronegative. Three of the five red deer stags used for mating became infected with B. ovis. The two wapiti stags used to mate the remaining 17 hinds the following year remained seronegative.
CONCLUSIONS: B. ovis is unlikely to have significant detrimental effects on the reproductive performance of red deer hinds. Venereal transmission via the vagina of hinds is a possible route of transmission between stags. It is possible that survival of the organism in the vagina of some hinds could create difficulties in disease control programmes.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE: B. ovis infection of hinds at the time of mating is unlikely to cause significant reproductive losses. Venereal transmission of B. ovis between stags via the hinds may occur when groups of hinds are joined with more than one stag.
KEY WORDS: Brucella ovis, deer, reproduction, abortion, perinatal mortality
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