Encephalitis, lymphoid tissue depletion and secondary diseases associated with bovine immunodeficiency virus in a dairy herd

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Encephalitis, lymphoid tissue depletion and secondary infections occurred over a 5-yr-period in Holstein cows infected with bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV). There were 59 cattle studied, the majority during 1991, when a severe environmental stress occurred, each with one or more primary causes of death, natural or by euthanasia, and most with several secondary diseases. The encephalitis was characterized by meningeal, perivascular and parenchymal infiltration with lymphocytes, occasional plasma cells and macrophages with perivascular edema in some cows. Affected areas included the cerebrum, cerebellum, and spinal cord with no particular distribution pattern recognized. The lymphoid depletion was primarily an absence of follicular development in nodes draining regions with secondary infections such as chronic mastitis and chronic suppurative pododermatitis. Paucity of lymphocytes in thymic-dependent regions of lymph nodes and the spleen suggested a primary depletion of T cells. Secondary infections were often multiple with each cow having several minor conditions, usually considered short-term and treatable. These included mastitis and pododermatitis, with many cows having non-responding abscesses, cellulitis and myositis attributed to injection site infections. A large number of the cattle had parturition difficulties such as dystocia, obturator paralysis, and metritis. Pulmonary, cardiovascular, and intestinal disease were recognized as both primary and secondary disease conditions. There was a high level of infection with bovine leukemia virus with 4 of the 59 cattle having lymphosarcoma. Under practical conditions, the infection with BIV has a different effect on the host than has been observed under experimental conditions. The presence of BIV combined with the stresses associated with parturition and a modern dairy production system were considered causal for the development of untreatable secondary diseases in immunocompromised cattle. The peak incidence in 1991 was attributed to increased environmental stress during renovation of the barn facility. During this time the cattle were kept on open pasture, exposed to an extremely wet winter, and spring weather conditions. The effect of co-infection with bovine leukemia virus, the influence of immunocompromise on the chronicity of mastitis, the relationship with laminitis and pododermatitis, and several questions related to viral transmission, complementarism with bovine leukemia virus, viral reactivation and immunoprophylaxis all remain as viable avenues for future investigations.

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Comparative Immunology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

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