A prospective epidemiological survey on bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) infections in calves was carried out on 21 dairy farms during one BRSV epidemic season. Special attention was paid to the role of maternal antibodies. On 15 farms the spread of the virus was demonstrated during the investigation period and on eight farms this was accompanied by an outbreak of acute respiratory disease. Disease seldom occurred in calves younger than two weeks old and the most severe disease was observed in calves from one to three months old. Although maternal antibodies did not effectively prevent the disease, both the incidence and severity of disease were inversely related to the level of specific maternal antibodies. Two serodiagnostic techniques were compared. In calves older than three months from herds with disease outbreaks associated with bovine respiratory syncytial virus the diagnosis was established in 80 per cent of the animals by an increase in IgG titre against BRSV and in 77 per cent by the detection of BRSV specific IgM. In comparison, only 10 per cent of the calves younger than three months were positive by IgG serodiagnosis, and 51 per cent by IgM serodiagnosis. On farms where the spread of the virus was accompanied by an outbreak of clinical disease more calves were present, a higher proportion of the calves was younger than three months, and calves of all ages were more often housed together.
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