Bovine Chlamydophila spp. infection: Do we underestimate the impact on fertility?

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Classical methods for detection of Chlamydophila species, and of antibodies against these agents, have indicated that these bacteria are highly prevalent in cattle and associated with numerous disease conditions. These methods demonstrated acute Chlamydophila-induced diseases such as epizootic bovine abortion, as well as worldwide variable, but generally high, Chlamydophila seroprevalence. However, it was impossible to consistently detect the low levels of these organisms which were suspected to be present in endemic infections. Application of highly sensitive real-time PCR and ELISA methods for detection of Chlamydophila spp. DNA and of antibodies against Chlamydophila spp., respectively, in a series of prospective cohort studies revealed a high prevalence of Chlamydophila spp. genital infections in female calves (61%) and adult heifers (53%). These infections were acquired by extragenital transmission in the first weeks of life, and infection frequency was increased by crowding of the animals. A challenge study demonstrated that infection with C. abortus resulted in decreased fertility of heifers. The experimental use of a C. abortus vaccine provided evidence for immunoprotection against C. abortus-induced suppression of bovine fertility. The results of these investigations suggest that bovine Chlamydophila infection should be viewed more as pervasive, low-level infection of cattle than as rare, severe disease. Such infections proceed without apparent disease or with only subtle expressions of disease, but potentially have a large impact on bovine herd health and fertility.

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