Illinois cattle producers have been seeing more cases of a serious disease lately. Teresa Steckler would like to find out why.

The University of Illinois Extension educator is working with the Illinois Beef Association in a study looking at the extent and severity of bovine anaplasmosis, a disease of ruminants caused by a parasite. Steckler, particularly, is looking at animals in southern Illinois.

“We’ve had anaplasmosis for years,” she said. “The reason I got interested is I kept hearing about more and more cases. It seemed like we were having more cases than normal. What is it due to? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

Animal scientists have a lot of questions about the disease. They include transmission, severity and hosts.

Young calves evidently have an innate resistance to the disease, according to the report defining the Illinois study. Cattle from 1 to 3 years of age generally get the acute form. Cattle over 3 years are hit with the most severe form, which often results in death.

Studies show introduction of the disease into a clean herd can result in a 3.6 percent reduction in calf crop, a 30 percent increase in cull rate and a 30 percent mortality rate in clinically infected adult cattle.

The last study in Illinois was in 1997. It found statewide prevalence to be between 7.1 and 10.7 percent of herds. Researchers estimate that over the past few years, southern Illinois cattlemen have lost fetuses, cows and bulls worth at least $100,000.

The disease is often transferred by tick bites. It also can be spread from one animal to another from infected instruments during routine procedures such as vaccination or castration.

There are vaccines for the disease, but they sometimes are difficult to obtain, and have spotty effectiveness.

“It works up to a point, but you still end up having cases,” said Steckler, who works out of the University of Illinois’ Dixon Springs Beef Center. “We’ve been vaccinating for several years at Dixon Springs. We still have several cases a year.”

The study calls for blood samples to be taken from cattle in counties in southern Illinois. Genomic DNA will be extracted from the samples, along with survey data from cooperating cattlemen.

The data will be used to estimate prevalence at the herd level and by county, agricultural district and study area. Researchers hope the data can be a guide to veterinarians and cattlemen in planning control measures.

So far, researchers have collected samples from 26 farms in 19 counties and are seeking more cooperators. Beef producers who participate will allow blood samples to be taken from a percentage of their herd — about half for those with herds of 100 head or smaller.

Samples are still needed from herds in the following counties: Alexander, Clay, Clinton, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Massac, Monroe, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Wabash, Wayne and White.

The study is being funded through checkoff dollars.

NAT WILLIAMS writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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