Virginia continues livestock disease-free status

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that Virginia qualifies to continue its status as a pseudorabies, brucellosis, and tuberculosis-free state. Free status means the state is free of any known incidence of these diseases in domestic livestock species that are monitored as part of their disease prevention and surveillance programs.

Virginia has maintained its brucellosis free status since 1988. “Receiving and maintaining our free status is very important for Virginia for both animal health and economic reasons,” said Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian and director of the Division of Animal and Food Industry Services at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).

“My staff members spend a lot of time testing animals on farms and in processing facilities, but the effort is well worth it. Free status is like a stamp of approval from the USDA that your animals are disease-free. This has positive implications for the farmers who sell livestock; it means their animals can move freely through the market system. Losing our free status would have a serious negative impact on the livestock industries in Virginia.”

Pseudorabies is a disease of swine caused by a herpes virus. It is highly contagious among swine and is occasionally transmitted to cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, and wild animals. Although it does not affect humans, this is the same family of viruses that gives people fever blisters, cold sores, chickenpox and shingles.

It is called pseudorabies because of its rabies-like symptoms. The disease causes high mortality in young piglets and infection during pregnancy usually results in fetal death and abortion.

The National Pseudorabies Eradication State-Federal-Industry Program is a five-stage program to rid the U. S. of this costly disease, and being declared free is the fifth and final step. All 50 states are now recognized as having no incidence of pseudorabies in commercial swine.

Until the National Pseudorabies Eradication Program began, the economic impact on the swine industry in the U. S. alone was estimated at $60 million. Because of the support of the swine industry in the Commonwealth and the cooperative efforts of the USDA and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia eliminated this costly disease in 1996.

The USDA launched a cooperative State-Federal Brucellosis Eradication Program in 1934 as part of an emergency cattle reduction program due to severe drought conditions in some parts of the country. The program tested herds, slaughtered diseased animals, and compensated owners for their losses.

Today the eradication program includes vaccination and a procedure for testing market cattle.

The disease is caused by a bacterium, and infection spreads rapidly and causes many abortions in unvaccinated herds. It primarily affects cattle, buffalo, bison, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, elk, and occasionally horses. The disease in man, sometimes referred to as undulant fever, is a serious public health problem in many parts of the world.

Virginia has continued to maintain its Brucellosis-Free status by satisfying the USDA’s requirements for surveillance. Staff at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services identify and test individual beef cattle at livestock markets, and six times each year, gather milk samples at dairies for testing. Epidemiological investigations of all animals with a suspicious brucellosis test have found no evidence of the disease in Virginia livestock.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that can affect cattle, wildlife and people. Several states or portions of states have had their T.B. status downgraded over the last several years, which impacts their ability to move animals through channels of trade.

“Losing our brucellosis, pseudorabies and tuberculosis free status would have a severe negative impact on Virginia’s farmers,” said Donald G. Blankenship, deputy commissioner of VDACS, “so we continually test and monitor animals and fluid milk throughout the state. The USDA reviews our test data and epidemiological tracings every year to determine that we are still free of these diseases. Because we are able to maintain our free status, Virginia livestock producers continue to enjoy minimal restrictions on the movement of their cattle and other animals.”

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