M. bovis outbreak that has been affecting dairy farms throughout New Zealand and it’s causing a lot of consternation.

As with outbreaks of any disease that is new to NZ, there has been a lot of publicity about it. The MPI website has been providing useful information, but there are still farmers throughout the country who are worried about the implications for them.

What are the facts? How big a risk is M. bovis to you as farmers and to NZ farming in general?

Here is some information about the disease that may help to clarify the situation and perhaps help alleviate any fears you may have.

Where are the infected farms and how likely is its spread?

The disease has mainly affected cattle on farms owned by the van Leuwen Dairy Group in the Waimate area, and on farms elsewhere in New Zealand which sourced cattle from this area. Fortunately it’s not highly infectious and the Ministry is making strenuous efforts to keep it in check before finally stamping it out.

The confirmed cases have been on farms owned by the van Leuwen Dairy Group, on farms that border these farms and on farms that have sourced cattle from them. There are currently dozens of properties under Restricted Place Notices, and tens of thousands of tests of blood, milk and swab samples have been carried out. When infected cattle are found, the farm is depopulated of cattle (by sending them to the works), and thousands of cattle have already been culled.

What causes the disease? What are the signs of infection?

Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that causes disease in cattle, and not in other species. Infections result in:

  • mastitis and late-term abortion in cows,
  • arthritis in cows and calves
  • and pneumonia in calves.

The disease is diagnosed by laboratory tests, which may take up to two weeks to complete.

How does it spread?

The most common routes of transfer are by close contact between cattle and through direct movement of cattle between farms. It can also spread from cow to calf in infected milk and on contaminated equipment from one cow to another.

Why is it so important?

NZ is one of the few countries in the world that is free of M. bovis infection in its cattle, and it’s important to regain this status for production and trade reasons. The industry organisations (Dairy NZ, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb NZ) are fully supportive of MPI’s efforts to eliminate the disease.

Can M. bovis spread to humans and other species?

M. bovis does not affect humans or any species other than cattle. It presents no food safety risk and it is not a trade risk for NZ animal products.

For more information, or if you suspect that your cattle might be infected, contact your veterinarian in the first instance, or MPI on 0800 809966.

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