Bulk tank milk samples collected from 929 Northern Ireland dairy herds were classified according to their geographical location, somatic cell count and milk yield. Each sample was tested by ELISA for antibody levels to bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BvDv) and the herds were assigned to four groups with increasing antibody levels. In nine herds (1 per cent) no antibodies were detectable in the milk samples (group 1) and they were detectable at low levels in the milk from 90 herds (9.7 per cent, group 2), at moderate levels in 369 herds (39.7 per cent, group 3), and at high levels in the remaining 461 herds (49.6 per cent, group 4). The testing of samples from 90 herds in groups 1 and 2 after an interval of 12 months showed that the annual incidence risk for new infections with BVDV was in the range 0.133 to 0.477. There were significant relationships (P<0.001) between the mean corrected optical density in the ELISA and herd location and somatic cell count, but not yield; the relationship with somatic cell count was linear (P<0.01). Forty-three group 3 herds and 49 group 4 herds were selected at random and bulk milk samples were tested for BVDV by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. None of the group 3 herds was positive, but five group 4 herds were positive.
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