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Bison Disease Battled by Scientists

By Marcia Wood
June 28, 2002

A leading disease of American bison is the target of Agricultural Research Service veterinary scientists and their university colleagues. Malignant catarrhal fever, or MCF, is caused by a group of viruses. Harmless to humans, MCF can be fatal to bison and cattle.

In the United States, domestic sheep are the predominate carriers of the virus. However, they apparently are not susceptible to the disease. That’s according to Hong Li, a veterinary microbiologist with the ARS Animal Disease Research Unit at Pullman, Wash.

Li and co-investigator Tim B. Crawford of Washington State University, Pullman, have developed tests that are helping researchers and veterinarians detect and correctly identify the disease. Their research may lead to new prevention techniques. Currently, there is no treatment, cure or vaccine for MCF.

One test is known as a CI-ELISA, short for competitive inhibition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. It determines whether any of the animals in a herd are carrying one of the MCF viruses, even if they’re not showing any of the usual signs.

The CI-ELISA can’t distinguish among the different kinds of MCF viruses. Their other tests, called polymerase chain reaction or PCR assays, can do that. PCR assays also are important for discovering new kinds of MCF viruses in livestock and wildlife. For example, Li used PCR technology to successfully identify a new MCF virus in white-tailed deer.

Li received a top regional award from ARS in 2000 for his pioneering research. In addition, he has served as special expert for the United Nations in establishing diagnostic assays for MCF in West Africa.

An article in the June 2002 issue of the agency’s national magazine, Agricultural Research, tells more.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

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