Brucella abortus strain RB51 is a laboratory-derived rough mutant of virulent B. abortus strain 2308 used as a vaccine because it induces antibodies that do not react on standard brucellosis serologic tests. Strain RB51 vaccine was evaluated in pregnant captive elk (Cervus elaphus) to determine (1) if it induced abortion and (2) if it protected against abortion following subsequent challenge. The time period of this study (February–June, 1998) was similar to field conditions where elk are vaccinated and possibly exposed to B. abortus. Fourteen elk were randomly and equally divided into vaccinated and control groups. The vaccinated group was vaccinated intramuscularly with 1.03 × 1010 colony-forming units (CFU) of strain RB51 and seroconverted postvaccination. Antibodies to strain RB51 were detected by a modification of an existing dot-blot assay. Both groups were challenged 40 days postvaccination with 9.8 × 106 CFU of B. abortus strain 2308 administered intraconjunctivally. The first abortion occurred 38 days postchallenge. Abortion occurred in all control elk and in five of seven vaccinated elk 5 to 12 wk postchallenge (P = 0.23). Mixed strain RB51 and 2308 infections were present in fetuses and vaginas from the vaccinated group whereas only strain 2308 was cultured from control group fetuses and vaginal swabs. Further evaluation of strain RB51 will be necessary to determine if it will be safe and efficacious in free-ranging pregnant elk.
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Vol. 36 • No. 3