During the recent symposium on Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), sponsored by researchers and veterinarians addressed the question of whether we could eradicate BVD in North America.

While the BVDV is a complex and challenging problem in beef and dairy cattle, the industry possesses an array of tools for effective control and potentially eradication of this destructive pathogen. These include effective vaccines, accurate and affordable diagnostic tests and a good understanding of how the disease spreads within and between herds. And yet, in spite of those tools, BVD remains one of the most prevalent and economically important diseases of cattle in North America.

During the conference, which was sponsored by Merck Animal Health, Life Technologies and the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Michigan State University (MS) veterinarian Dan Grooms, DVM, PhD, outlined a project in Michigan demonstrating the feasibility of, and challenges in, BVD eradication. From 2007 through 2012, MSU, in partnership with Zoetis, USDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture engaged in a BVD eradication program in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The Upper Peninsula, Grooms says, provided a good regional model as it is a relatively small area mostly surrounded by Great Lakes, other than part of its southern border shared with Wisconsin. The area houses about 760 cattle farms, with a mix of beef and dairy operations.

The program included several components necessary for eradicating or controlling BVD, including testing, vaccination, biosecurity and ongoing surveillance, with a focus on removing persistently infected (PI) cattle from herds. The effort began with communications and education, which Grooms considers absolutely critical. The MSU Extension team, along with Zoetis staff and others, spread out across the region to meet with beef and dairy producers, explain the program and the value of eliminating BVD from their herds. They sent out educational flyers and issued farm signs to identify participating farms. These efforts, Grooms says, generated excitement and built awareness of the value of testing, vaccinating and biosecurity among local producers. Once farms enrolled, the team worked with owners to customize a control program based on their production environments and BVD risk levels.

Once the program was underway, 294 farms submitted samples representing more than 18,000 cattle. Analysis identified 22 PI cattle from nine farms, including four beef and five dairy operations. Of the dairies, four had received cattle from a single heifer operation, which appeared to be the source of the virus.

Ultimately, the five-year project lacked time and funding to completely eradicate BVD from the region, but Grooms considers it a success. “What it showed is that we can make significant impact in getting rid of virus from a region of a country such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And what we really demonstrated is that this needs to be a cooperative project. It’s not just a top-down kind of government-regulated eradication program. It’s basically a project where people need to work together, producers, veterinarians, industry leaders, universities, pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic labs – all working together to really make a significant impact in eradicating this virus.” He also notes that the program’s educational efforts helped build awareness about disease control in general, and helped producers improve their vaccination protocols, diagnostic testing and biosecurity efforts for controlling diseases besides BVD. 

So could we eradicate BVD from the United States? The general consensus among conference participants was that eradication is possible, but maybe not feasible given the scale and structure of the U.S. cattle industry. However, a systematic control effort aimed at eradication on a local, regional or national level definitely could bring dramatic reductions in BVD outbreaks and economic losses. As Jeff Baxter, global senior product manager for Life Technologies suggested during the conference, when we think of “BVD,” we should think of Biosecurity, Vaccination and Diagnostics.