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Information on Diseases

Black cow two calves


Disease Overview

Leptospirosis is associated with infertility and abortion in both beef and dairy herds and has been identified as a cause of milk drop. The disease is caused by the organisms collectively referred to as Leptospira hardjo (L. borgpetersenii serovar hardjo and L. interrogans serovar hardjo).

After infection these bacteria localise in the reproductive tract and in the kidneys. The agent is passed in urine and infection spreads when cattle are exposed to urine from infected animals.

As with other diseases included in the PCHS, disease is nearly always introduced into the herd by the purchase of infected cattle. Infection may also be introduced by contaminated water supplies.

L. hardjo can be maintained in sheep but does not appear to cause disease in sheep; however sheep may be a source of infection for cattle. Of more importance is the risk of infection in man where infection causes flu-like symptoms and severe headaches.

Dairymen working in the parlour are most at risk of exposure to infected urine. Herd owners must therefore be aware of their responsibilities under the COSHH regulations.

Confirmation of infection in premature or stillborn calves is difficult, but evidence of infection in the herd can be gained by blood sampling the cows. In the scheme the ELISA test is used to detect antibody in the blood or milk.

Some cows only test positive for a short time after infection. Another problem lies in the fact that other types of Leptospira organisms can infect cattle and result in a positive blood test while causing no disease.

These two features mean that a test and cull policy is not a reliable option for control. But where testing in a herd shows no evidence of disease, breeding stock from a herd can be considered to be free of infection and be purchased safely.

It is for this reason that some herds may wish to pursue accreditation of freedom from disease or monitor for the presence of disease. Where a herd test shows evidence of infection some owners may wish to enter a monitoring programme to help them manage the disease.

Alternative options for a herd with evidence of active infection include vaccination and medication.

Screening For The Disease

Initial Herd Screen: In herds where the L. hardjo status is uncertain, limited blood sampling or bulk milk antibody testing can be carried out as an aid to deciding whether to progress with eradication of this disease. Once you have decided to eradicate the disease, all animals of 12 months of age or older that are intended for breeding must be sampled. Animals that test positive are reactors and should be removed.

Disease Eradication

Once reactors are removed a second herd test is carried out between 6 and 12 months later. Once a clear test is achieved this is the first test of the Accreditation Programme.

Disease Free Status Accreditation

To show freedom from this disease all cattle of 2 years of age or older and all animals intended for breeding that are one year or older are tested twice at an interval of 6 to 12 months. Thereafter each year a statistically based sample of animals of 12 months of age and older in each separately managed group within the herd must be sampled.

Premium Cattle Health Scheme (PCHS)

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Address: SRUC Veterinary Services, Greycrook, St Boswells TD6 0EQ

Telephone: 01835 822456

Fax: 01835 823643


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