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Is more effort required for BVD eradication?

How far have we come over the last year and what are the next steps?

17 April 2018, at 12:03pm

A year ago, at VetsSouth 2017, delegates discussed the technical and practical aspects of BVD control involving veterinary surgeons and farmers. Joe Brownlie provided the anchor for the discussions and the group thrashed out the current situation and the way forward. As part of the day, advisers from three vaccine companies (Elanco, MSD and Boehringer) shared their experiences together with views from Dick Sibley, Roger Blowey, Derek Armstrong and Eamon Watson. 

There was a very positive feeling that, at last, real progress could be expected towards eradication on individual farms and for the whole of the UK. 

A major issue had been highlighted by the RVC that veterinary surgeons were not confident in advising clients about BVD control and that the impacts of the disease and the testing options and procedures were not easily understood. 

How far have we come? 

In February 2017, the British Cattle Veterinary Association launched an online training and registration programme. Some 132 veterinary surgeons have taken the tutorial, passed the test and are registered on the interactive online map. One of the aims of registration is to indicate to farmers and others that a raised level of expertise to help control the disease is available. 

Though many veterinary surgeons have participated, there are around 90 individuals who have paid the registration fee but have not opened their mobile, or laptop, to engage with the details. 

It is debatable how many veterinary surgeons in cattle practice are currently advising clients on BVD eradication. Other agencies are also promoting many of the technical aspects and it seems important that there is agreement over herd assessments and action. It would be a great boost to the initiative if 1,000 veterinary surgeons were registered as BVD advisers. Registration is currently voluntary, but this may well change to being compulsory, as with Johne’s Disease. 

Although the Johne’s initiative has been going for over a year longer, it is understood that more than 800 vets have registered. The perceived wisdom is that around 5,000 dairy herds and 25,000 beef herds have been exposed to the BVD virus, so every cattle veterinary practice is likely to have client herds that are infected, whether anyone realises it or not. It is recognised that ‘Persistently Infected’ animals have, in the past, been traded. 

One of the major points of clarification between veterinary advisers and farmers is a policy for managing PI cattle. Clearly national eradication will be blighted if infected beasts are passed from one herd to another. 

BVDFree England has now been operational for 18 months with farmers registering their holdings and submitting test results to a central database. The latest figures from the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board are that 1,111 holdings are registered with 163,963 cattle and 65,000 individual animal status results searchable at bvdfree.org.uk. 

Meetings and workshops 

Considerable energy is being applied with five farmer meetings and a veterinary workshop arranged over the past six weeks. More meetings and workshops are expected to be rolled out throughout the coming year. The past year has been described as a ‘slow burn’ towards eradication in herds, with the original target of national eradication by 2,022 remaining in place. 

It is believed within the industry that many more farmers are carrying out BVD testing privately than are engaging with the BVDFree database.

There is no central source of data to indicate the whole volume of national testing, but the following information from National Milk Laboratories strikes a positive stance: “We are seeing a year on year increase in the number of cattle tested for BVD through tag and test. For dairy herds there is also an increasing uptake of herd surveillance through bulk milk testing and investigation to eliminate Persistently Infected cattle, often in response to retailer driven initiatives. 

“A lot of herds work closely with their vet to safeguard the health status of the herd and are already using recognised health schemes for BVD and Johne’s.” 

The Ruminant Dashboard within the APHA Vet Gateway allows collation of the number of PIs confirmed from samples submitted to government laboratories by county. Access is also available to the Scottish scheme, which has been credited with a significant reduction in cattle herds that are ‘not negative’ for BVD. 

What are the future aims? 

This month, the successful tender for the £5 million Defra scheme to pay for veterinary surgeon advice, blood testing and follow-up visits for clusters of herds is due to be announced. The exact details of how this programme is to be managed are awaited. Last September, the Gwaredu BVD project was launched in Wales with a £10 million budget allowing free testing until 2020. 

Interestingly, blood samples are to be taken on the first day of bTB testing and the results available when the TB test is read. This appears to be a good use of veterinary and farmer time and it will be interesting to see if the same application of resources will be applied in England. 

A major point about the eradication aims with BVD is that the whole industry needs to engage with the effort. At the VetsSouth conference, the input of the vaccine companies was encouraging and the technical point was accepted that vaccination alone was not the answer to remove the virus from infected herds.

Keeping free of disease 

The role for vaccination was seen as being with BVDnegative herds to keep them free of disease. However, the point is made that many farmers, calving cows all year round, are only administering a single shot of vaccine and not a full course. 

Elanco withdrew Bovidec from the market a few weeks ago, but the company is continuing to apply its expertise in support of disease eradication programmes. 

The two other companies recognise that technical input into the support of eradication is commercially beneficial and that correct use of vaccination, in the right way at the right time, is the way forward. 

More information about developments with BVDZero (Bovela, Boehringer) and Not on My Farm (Bovilis, MSD) can be anticipated. The BVD vaccine market is poised for expansion from the current level of £9 million; this is approximately £1 spent on vaccination for every bovine. Various estimates of the financial impact of the disease range from £25 million to £61 million per annum. 

More and more people within the cattle industry have become better informed about BVD during the past year. It is clear that more effort is required to turn good intentions into disease eradication.

My thanks to the many people who have responded to requests for information. A major observation and concern is that when the UK leaves the EU, it will be important to demonstrate BVD disease status nationally, by herd and of individual animals, to the best of our ability.

Following a 16-year apprenticeship with Beecham, Richard established a project management and development consultancy and writes regular contributions for the veterinary press.

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