When it comes to respiratory disease, don’t overlook protection from viral pathogens. Enhancing the immune system by vaccinating for viral disease can help cattle fight off more serious and devastating bacterial infections that can follow viral diseases.

“It’s important for dairy producers to understand the basic biology of disease progression,” says Greg Edwards, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health. “By setting up an appropriate vaccination program, dairy producers can help protect cattle against viral infection and ensure a healthy future. Viral infections can open the door to additional bacterial infections and it’s important to help keep the animal’s natural defenses strong to limit incidence and severity of disease.”

Edwards offers a few important points regarding the progression and development of respiratory disease in cattle for dairy producers to keep in mind when developing disease prevention programs.

  • Pathogens are present: Bacterial pathogens are almost always present in an animal’s environment and body; however, they do not always cause disease. Viral pathogens, likewise, may exist in the body at any given time. The presence of disease-causing pathogens in the body is only one part of the equation. The other is the effectiveness of the animal’s immune system and its natural defenses to protect against cell invasion, virus replication and resulting infection. Boosting cattle’s natural defenses through adequate nutrition, clean environment and proper vaccinations can keep bacterial and viral pathogens from causing more serious disease.
  • Viruses instigate larger issues: Viruses are more refined and invasive than bacterial pathogens. They infiltrate the body through the mouth, throat and trachea. The resulting damage to the mucosal cells lining the respiratory system makes way for larger bacterial pathogens to infiltrate the system and potentially cause disease. That is one of the reasons why mucosal immunity from intranasal vaccination is beneficial.
  • Natural defenses may work against the body: Keep an eye out for symptoms of disease or a stimulated immune system, such as excessive mucus, and take action to limit exposure of affected animals to healthy ones. Mucus can disrupt the natural wave motion of cilia in the respiratory tract. When working properly, the cilias’ wave helps push viral and bacterial particles up and out of the respiratory tract. However, if mucus builds up on cilia it may allow harmful particles to get deeper into the lungs, causing further damage. Natural defenses must be upheld in order to work properly and aid in disease protection.

In the end, animal husbandry and wellness is paramount in helping cattle remain protected against disease progression. Providing a clean environment, adequate ventilation and balanced nutrition, as well as limiting exposure to infected animals are important steps to help protect cattle against disease. Likewise, viral vaccinations provide a security system for cattle, helping get ahead of bacterial diseases before they cause more serious problems.