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Experimental infection of cows with bovine viral diarrhoea virus in early pregnancy - findings in serum and foetal fluids.

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Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Department of Production Animal Clinical Sciences, PO Box 8146 Dep, N-0033 Oslo, Norway.


Nineteen pregnant cows were experimentally infected with bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV) between day 74 and 81 of pregnancy. All cows became infected and developed serum antibodies. Sixteen of the cows delivered persistently infected (PI) offspring, whereas the remaining three gave birth to calves with detectable serum antibodies and free from BVDV. The 16 cows with PI foetuses developed higher levels of antibodies in serum during pregnancy than did their three peers carrying non-PI calves. Multivariate analysis showed that the antibody levels in these two groups of cows were significantly different from day 135 of pregnancy. Foetal fluid was successfully collected from 18 of the 19 infected cows and from five uninfected control cows between 10 and 24 days before delivery by use of a percutaneous, blind puncture technique. No negative effects were observed in the cows or their offspring. BVDV was isolated and detected with an immunoperoxidase test in foetal fluid from 13 of the 16 cows carrying PI foetuses, and from 15 of the cows when a quantitative fluorescent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique was used. The negative sample in the PCR assay was positive for BVDV antibodies. The number of viral copies per microlitre in foetal fluids varied between 103 and 1080 in the positive samples. All samples taken from the cows carrying non-PI foetuses were negative for BVDV in both assays. In this experiment, examination of either serum or foetal fluids could identify the cows carrying a PI foetus. Examination of serum for BVDV antibodies was a reliable indicator of a PI foetus if the serum was collected during the last 2 months of pregnancy. For examination of foetal fluids, both viral and serological analyses should be performed. For viral analysis, PCR should be the test of choice. High levels of BVDV antibodies in conjunction with a negative result in the PCR may be indicative of a false-negative virus result. Further experience with the method of collection of foetal fluids is necessary for evaluation of its safety. Investigation of pregnant cows in order to discover a PI offspring before it is born could be a useful tool in control and eradication of BVDV.

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