An infectious keratoconjunctivitis (IKC) epizootic in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) occurred in the Silver Bell Mountains, Arizona, USA, from 1 December 2003 to 31 March 2004. We used standard culture methods and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of the 16S rRNA gene to test for the causative agents of IKC and other diseases reported to be associated with bighorn sheep populations. All bighorn sheep and domestic goat test results were negative except for Mycoplasma spp. and Branhamella spp. The culture and PCR results differed. Conjunctival swabs from four of 19 IKC-affected bighorn sheep tested by culture were positive for Mycoplasma spp., whereas 22 of 22 bighorn sheep samples tested by PCR were positive for Mycoplasma spp. None of 13 domestic goats tested positive by culture for Mycoplasma spp., whereas five of 16 tested positive by PCR. Three of 16 domestic goats and seven of 24 IKC-affected bighorn sheep tested positive for Branhamella spp. by culture. Bighorn sheep began showing clinical signs of IKC between 21 and 28 days following initial detection of domestic goats in bighorn sheep habitat. The IKC epizootic lasted 122 days, and individual bighorn sheep were blind for an average of 38.4 days. Given the clear potential for disease transmission to bighorn sheep, we recommend that land managers not allow the pasturing of domestic goats near occupied bighorn sheep habitat.
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