LSU Ag Center Brucellosis Specialist May Help Stem Bison Controversy

An LSU Agricultural Center researcher has assumed an important role -- as a disagreement between cattle producers and environmentalists is creating national interest in the bison herd in Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Philip Elzer, an assistant professor in the LSU Ag Center's Department of Veterinary Science, is one of the few U.S. researchers specializing in brucellosis research with large animals. His expertise has come to the forefront as opposing sides square off over the question of brucellosis infection in the Yellowstone bison herd.

"Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are certified brucellosis free, but that could change if wild animals contaminate the cattle herds," Elzer says.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that for many years infected U.S. cattle and swine. Also known as contagious abortion or Bang's disease, the disease causes spontaneous abortions, infertility and lowered milk production. It can also spread to humans, where it's called undulant fever.

"In most instances the only sign of infection in cattle is reproductive failure due to abortions, thus the disease is usually considered a female disease," Elzer says. Otherwise-healthy animals contract the disease either from their mothers at birth or through contact with the aborted fetuses, afterbirth or the milk of infected females.

"Infected cattle and swine may remain carriers for life," he says. "The bacteria can hide in the lymph glands of infected animals for years."

Through persistent efforts of the Cooperative State-Federal Brucellosis Eradication program, brucellosis has been all but eradicated from U.S. cattle and swine herds. More than 40 states have been certified as brucellosis free, and others are nearly to that point.

Farmers and ranchers in brucellosis-free states are permitted sell animals across state lines and ship animals and animal products in international trade with few restrictions.

Contact: Rick Bogren
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

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