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New Pestivirus Identified

By Marty Clark
November 7, 2001

A new type of pestivirus in wildlife has been identified by Agricultural Research Service scientists. Pestivirus is a scientific term for a group of viruses that include economically important livestock diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) viruses and hog cholera virus, also known as swine fever virus. Pestiviruses can also cause reproductive failure and congenital defects in ruminant animals.

ARS microbiologist Julia F. Ridpath and colleagues from the National Animal Disease Center (NADC), Ames, Iowa, characterized the new virus, which was isolated from antelope tissues by Wyoming State University researchers.

No disease is associated yet with the new pestivirus, but its presence in wildlife is significant because wildlife come in close contact with livestock and disease can be transmitted. Identification of this new pestivirus is the result of ongoing research at NADC to improve detection and control of pestiviruses.

Current pestivirus research focuses on BVD viruses, which circulate in cattle herds, leading to lower milk production, poor feed conversion and significant reproductive problems. They are the most important enteric viral agents of cattle in the U.S. Although many commercial BVD vaccines exist, they continue to be one of the most costly disease problems facing cattle producers. Losses could be reduced if a quick, reliable and technically simple test were available to field veterinarians.

ARS and ImmuCell Corporation of Portland, Me., have a research agreement to develop quicker, field-ready BVD detection tests. In addition, ARS and Intervet, Inc., of Millsboro, Del., have agreed to develop a new, more effective BVD vaccine.

Research on pestiviruses dates to the 1930's, when U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers showed that hog cholera was caused by a virus. They developed a test and a vaccine that led to the eradication of hog cholera in the U.S. in 1978.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of USDA.