Legislative update on brucellosis – Dec. 21

Hello Sublette County, this is Albert

Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne

on issues relating to brucellosis.

The infectious bacterial disease brucellosis,

in this case b. abortus, causes cattle

to abort their calves. Brucellosis is a zoonotic

disease that can affect other species,

including humans. Because this is a zoonotic

disease, it is regulated by both federal

and state livestock health agencies.

Brucellosis has been primarily eradicated

from cattle herds in the United States,

except in the Greater Yellowstone Area,

where the disease is endemic in elk and

occasionally jumps species to cattle. This

fall, brucellosis issues have plagued Sublette

County ranchers, including the Sommers


Cattle producers in Sublette, Teton,

Park and northern Lincoln counties are

in the Designated Surveillance Area. The

state of Wyoming requires sexually intact

female bovines to be tested for brucellosis

prior to movement outside the DSA. In

order to test for brucellosis, veterinarians

take blood samples from cattle and send

the samples to the Wyoming State Vet

Lab in Laramie, where the samples are

screened utilizing testing procedures approved

by the federal government, USDAAPHIS.

A WSVL white paper created at my request

states, “As brucellosis serologic testing

began to increase last fall, it started to

become apparent that the WSVL and other

labs were seeing more suspect and positive

samples. ... It is important to note that the

numbers of ‘non-negative’ tests have not

been enormous; 16 animals from 12 premises

throughout DSA tested in the positive

(>20) or suspect (10-20) range on FPA

out of roughly 80,000 tested. For three of

these animals, we are reasonably confident

they are true infected animals.”

Those positive samples, regardless

whether the herd is designated an “infected

herd,” create serious repercussions

for cattle producers.

On our ranch, Sommers Ranch, a nonpregnant

yearling heifer tested positive.

This positive test forced the Wyoming

State Veterinarian to put a movement

quarantine on all the ranch’s sexually

intact cattle, except those sent direct to

slaughter sale. Nearly one month later, the

federal epidemiologist released our herd

and the Wyoming State Vet released the

quarantine. We were not alone, and the

story does not end there.

Every neighbor whose cattle had commingled

or had fence line contact with my

heifer was left with the decision of whether

to test their cattle or wait to see whether

my animal was infected. Most producers

whose cattle had contact with ours tested

their cattle for brucellosis. This resulted in

thousands of cattle being tested, and subsequently

more positives being found. A

positive on the test does not necessarily

equate to an infected animal; therein lies

the rub. Although the number of animals

with a positive test result was small, the

number of affected premises was several

times what is typically found during fall



According to WSVL, “For the past 20-

plus years, the rapid automated presumptive

test (RAP) has been the screening test

for brucellosis in cattle in Wyoming. The

diagnostic reagent required to run the RAP

test was supplied solely by USDA-APHIS.

Earlier in the summer of 2019, the WSVL

and other labs were notified by APHIS

that they would no longer be able to supply

the RAP reagent, effectively eliminating

RAP as an available test. Two other

tests are available for serologic screening

for brucellosis: the buffered acidified plate

antigen (BAPA) and the fluorescence polarization

assay (FPA), the test previously

used to confirm RAP results.

“… Thus, in consultation with the Wyoming

State Veterinarian and diagnosticians

in other states it was decided that we

would utilize the FPA test for screening.

The FPA test is a much more sensitive

and specific test than either RAP or BAPA

(both sensitivity and specificity >99 percent).”

Producers were not notified that a testing

change had occurred until the county’s

producers were in the middle of testing

thousands of cattle. Producers, brand inspectors

and veterinarians were kept in the


At this same time, the Wyoming State

Veterinarian was pulling out what was

left of his hair, because he was required

to track all these positive tests and assume

they were infected animals. Tracking such

cases is not simple and a lot of investigative

work is required. Brucellosis hides in

various organs and really doesn’t manifest

itself until late in pregnancy, meaning it

is hard to find even through culture tests.

I believe the State Vet did the best job he

could under the circumstances and regulations

he faced. More communication with

all producers would have been beneficial,

but confidentiality issues seemed to prevent


Communication with producers, veterinarians

and brand inspectors must improve,

regardless of how busy the animal

health agencies are. So, what has been

done by the regulators? What am I trying

to do at the state level?

Regarding the FPA test, WSVL states:

“Current solution: In consultation with and

provisional approval by APHIS, the lower

cutoff values for FPA testing have been

raised from 20 to 40, provided other tests

are negative. The BAPA has been implemented

as a follow-on test. Under this

scheme, if an animal has an FPA value <40

and is BAPA negative it will be considered

negative. Sera that test >40 on FPA

and/or are BAPA positive will be sent to

the APHIS National Veterinary Services

Laboratory for further testing. Using these

criteria, five of the 16 FPA positive animals

would have been called negative.”

Federal and state animal health regulators

continue to evaluate current cases. It

may not be possible to determine the true

brucellosis status of certain animals due to

the nature of the infection in cattle.

If this is the “current solution,” what is

the long-term solution?

The FPA test appears to be too unreliable,

so we need research for the development

of a new diagnostic brucellosis test.

Further, we need a new vaccine. Producers

have little confidence in RB51, the present

vaccine, so most producers would like

to return to the old Strain 19 vaccine or

see a new vaccine be developed. However,

vaccine companies are not going to spend

money in this arena, because there are not

enough livestock in the DSA to warrant

spending research and development dollars.

The federal government needs to fund

USDA-APHIS to ensure the RAP test is

reinstated. Adequate federal dollars could

also move the needle on vaccine research.

The workload upon the WSVL has been

intense, and it has been working with a

short staff for many years.

That is where I can try to help. As we

build the budget for the upcoming budget

session, I will be trying to get more pathologist

positions for the WSVL. In testimony

in front of the Appropriations Committee,

the UW College of Agriculture Dean testified

that the WSVL was short four posi-

Legislative update on brucellosis – Dec. 21

From Rep. Albert Sommers, House District No. 20

tions. As a member of the Appropriations

Committee, I will work toward providing

two additional positions, but not four.

I heard that producers and veterinarians

were receiving lab results as late as 1 a.m.

People don’t do their best work at 1 a.m.

After being approached by one of the affected

producers, I am drafting a bill that

would provide some reimbursement to producers

for costs incurred from future brucellosis

quarantines. This could be done by

accessing an existing pot of money dedicated

to brucellosis. Wyoming’s wildlife

now harbors this disease, so I believe the

state has some responsibility to lessen the

impact on ranchers. I am also examining

the Wyoming Livestock Board budget to

ensure it has enough money to reimburse

the WSVL for brucellosis testing.

Joel Bousman, Terry Pollard and I have

served on the Brucellosis Coordination

Team since its inception in the mid 2000s.

There are no easy answers. The solutions

most talked about – like elimination of elk

feedgrounds, test and slaughter of infected

elk, spatial separation of elk and cattle

and a new vaccine – all have unique challenges,

detractors and proponents.

At the Pinedale Library on Jan. 28 at

1 p.m., the Sublette County Conservation

District is hosting a meeting for livestock

producers to discuss concerns about this

past fall’s brucellosis testing. Participants

will include the State Veterinarian,

WSVL, USDA-APHIS, Wyoming Department

of Agriculture, Wyoming Livestock

Board and the Wyoming Game and Fish


I can be reached at [email protected]