Brucellosis Vaccination 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I was up early and got to the clinic well before eight. I was hoping to get out to Bill’s place and finish his heifers before the day heated up too much.

“We have a call this morning to vaccinate some heifer calves,” I said to Dixie as soon as she came through the door. “It is going to be a hot day. We need to get out there right away, so we can be done before it really heats up.”

“Well, the good news is there isn’t much going on this afternoon,” Judy said. “We should be able to leave early before the day warms up.”

Dixie and I double-checked the truck to make sure we had everything. We will give a brucellosis vaccine to about twenty heifer calves this morning.

Brucellosis is a disease that is contagious to man, a zoonosis. There has been a federal program to eradicate the disease since 1934. The incidence is much reduced from those early years. 

In the 1930s, brucellosis, or undulant fever, was a disease in women and children. The disease has become rare with the widespread use of pasteurization of dairy products and the federal eradication program. Now it is mainly a disease of veterinarians and slaughterhouse workers.

The eradication program uses calfhood vaccination of all breeding heifers before they are a year of age and testing of adults. Infected cattle, and sometimes entire herds, are slaughtered.

Vaccinated heifers are identified with a vaccination tattoo in their right ear and either an official ear tag or, in the case of registered cattle, their registration tattoo is satisfactory. An official record of vaccination is made and submitted to the state veterinarian’s office. The identification process and the paperwork cause the process to be a little time-consuming.

Bill was waiting at the barn when we pulled into the breezeway.

“This is sort early for you, ain’t it, Doc,” Bill said as we stepped out of the truck.

“I was worried about your black cows. You know they suffer more in the heat,” I said with a smile.

“These cows are not bothered by the hot weather,” Bill said.

“Well, we need to get started,” I said. “Dixie wants to be out of here before it gets hot.”

“I’m still not understanding why we have to vaccinate these heifers for a disease that we don’t have in this state anymore,” Bill said. “I mean, Oregon is supposed to be brucellosis-free. I would think that we could stop this expensive vaccination.”

“Cattle move around a lot more these days than they did twenty years ago,” I said. “They did a study some years back, where they took four hundred head of cattle and put them through a sale. Then they followed them for the next week. It was sort of an eye-opener. In the week following the sale, those cattle spread across five states and were exposed to thousands of cattle as they went from one sale barn to another.”

“Well, I don’t go to a sale barn to buy cattle,” Bill said.

“No, but your neighbor probably does,” I said. “Actually, the only real source of brucellosis in this country today is the bison and elk in and around Yellowstone National Park. And, the experts think there is probably no way that we will get control of that situation.”

“So we have to pay extra, just so a bunch of city folk can go get gored by a wild buffalo,” Bill said.

I mixed the vaccine, and Bill ran the first heifer into the chute. I gave the heifer a dose of vaccine under her skin on her right shoulder and then placed an official tattoo in her right ear.

The tattoo had a number for the quarter, followed by an official shield, and then the last digit of the year. I used green ink because it would show up better on the black skin of these ears.

“Why is it that you have to do these vaccines?” Bill asked. “I mean, we can do the other vaccines. Why can’t we do this one?”

“This vaccine is called Strain 19,” I said. “If it is a live strain of the brucellosis bacteria. If it is not handled correctly, it can make a person sick. The book says that usually happens to young veterinarians who don’t have their safe practices established yet.”

“Do you know anyone who has ever had Brucellosis?” Bill asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “My grandmother, for one, she probably got it from raw milk. For that reason, my mother quit drinking milk when she was ten or twelve. The first veterinarian who I worked for in Enumclaw had it. His case was pretty severe and eventually resulted in him losing his colon. Then Dr. Haug from Myrtle Point had it. He told me he was sure he had caught it from a cow that he worked on way out in a pasture, and he didn’t have enough water to wash up with until he got back to his truck.”

“Okay, you convinced me. Let’s just get to work and get these heifers vaccinated,” Bill said.

With Dixie keeping track of the paperwork, I was able to get through this bunch of twenty heifers in less than two hours. The temperature inside the barn was already starting to warm up. It was hotter in the breezeway when we washed up and put everything away in the truck.

“I hope Judy has kept the book open,” Dixie said. “That clinic, without air-conditioning, gets hot on these days.”

“Yes, when we were building it, Jim said we would only need air conditioning for a few days out of the year,” I said. “I guess he was right, as far as the numbers go, but on these hot days, we just have to close down.”

When we returned to the clinic, Judy had the appointment book emptied out, and it was hot enough to call it a day.

“Give the answering service the phone and tell them the clinic is too hot for us to work,” I said. “I think I will get Sandy to gather up the kids and head up the river to soak our toes and wait for the evening breeze.”

“Give us a call before you go,” Judy said. “We will join you as soon as Kenny is off work.”

“That will be good. Maybe we can cook some hot dogs for dinner,” I said as I headed out the door.

Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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