Brucellosis has been eradicated from cattle in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, USA. However, free-ranging elk (Cervus elaphus) that use feedgrounds in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) and bison (Bison bison) in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks still have high seroprevalence to the disease and have caused loss of brucellosis-free status in Wyoming. Management tools to control or eliminate the disease are limited; however, wildlife vaccination is among the methods currently used by wildlife managers in Wyoming. We conducted a controlled challenge study of single calfhood vaccination. Elk calves, caught in January and February of 1999 and 2000 and acclimated to captivity for 3 weeks, were randomly assigned to control or vaccinate groups. The vaccinate groups received Brucella abortus vaccine strain 19 (S19) by hand-delivered intramuscular injection. Calves were raised to adulthood and bred at either 2.5 or 3.5 years of age for 2000 and 1999 captures, respectively. Eighty-nine (44 controls, 45 vaccinates) pregnant elk entered the challenge portion of the study. We challenged elk at mid-gestation with pathogenic B. abortus strain 2308 by intraconjunctival instillation. Abortion occurred in significantly more (P = 0.002) controls (42; 93%) than vaccinates (32; 71%), and vaccine protected 25% of the vaccinate group. We used Brucella culture of fetus/calf tissues to determine the efficacy of vaccination for preventing infection, and we found that the number of infected fetuses/calves did not differ between controls and vaccinates (P = 0.14). Based on these data, single calfhood vaccination with S19 has low efficacy, will likely have only little to moderate effect on Brucella prevalence in elk, and is unlikely to eradicate the disease in wildlife of the GYA.
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Vol. 68 • No. 4