Persistence, serodiagnosis and effects on semen characteristics of artificial Brucella ovis infection in red deer stags

Persistence, serodiagnosis and effects on semen characteristics of artificial Brucella ovis infection in red deer stags
Peer reviewed


AIMS: To investigate the persistence of infection and serum antibody titres after infection of red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags with Brucella ovis, and compare these with those of rams. To assess the effects of recent and chronic infection on semen characteristics of stags.
METHODS: Fourteen stags and eight rams were artificially infected with B. ovis by intravenous inoculation. Semen and blood samples were collected at approximately monthly intervals for 649 days. Semen samples were subjected to bacterial culture, and sera were tested for B. ovis antibodies using a complement fixation test (CFT) and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). At the end of the study, animals were slaughtered and reproductive organs subjected to bacterial culture. During the first and second breeding seasons, three and five semen samples, respectively, were evaluated from each stag for sperm motility and morphology.
RESULTS: Twelve of 14 (86%) stags and 6/8 (75%) rams developed a patent B. ovis infection and shed the organism in semen. All six infected rams continued to shed B. ovis in semen throughout the 649-day study period, and at slaughter B. ovis was isolated from the reproductive tract and urinary bladder. In contrast, 10/12 (83%) infected stags stopped shedding B. ovis in semen 103–342 days after inoculation, and the organism could not be isolated from their reproductive tracts at slaughter. The remaining two infected stags shed B. ovis in semen throughout the study period and the organism was isolated from their reproductive tracts at slaughter. All inoculated animals initially developed serum antibody titres detectable using the B. ovis CFT and ELISA. For infected stags, the diagnostic sensitivity of these tests was 100% for the first 166 days, but decreased to 50–90% after this. The diagnostic sensitivity for the infected rams was 100% throughout the study period. Infection in stags resulted in variable effects on semen characteristics. Eight of 12 (67%) infected stags had a mean sperm motility of <50%, and <60% mean normal sperm in the first year of infection. Seven of these stags had resolved the infection by the following breeding season, and there was a significant improvement in sperm motility and morphology.
CONCLUSIONS: Stags are as susceptible as rams to experimental B. ovis infection. However, the majority of infected stags resolved the infection within a year, whereas rams remained infected for at least 649 days (22 months). Serology, using CFT and ELISA, was effective at detecting infection during the first 166 days in both species, but after this time was less effective at detecting infection in stags than in rams. Infection with B. ovis had variable but generally deleterious effects on the semen characteristics of stags, which resolved following resolution of the infection. Differences in the characteristics of the disease in stags compared with rams mean that different control methods are warranted for the two species.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Most stags infected with B. ovis are likely to resolve the infection within a year, and semen characteristics return to levels acceptable for breeding. Serology is useful for detection of infection in the early stages of the disease, but once disease has been present in the herd for some time false-negative reactions are likely to occur in individual stags.
KEY WORDS: Brucella ovis, deer, stags, sheep, rams, serodiagnosis, semen evaluation

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