Malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) is traditionally regarded as a disease with a short clinical course, low morbidity and high case fatality rate. Owing to the limitations of the assays used for laboratory diagnosis, it was difficult to characterise the clinical spectrum of sheep-associated MCF, particularly when the cattle recovered from an MCF-like clinical syndrome. Over a period of three years, 11 cattle that survived MCF for up to two-and-a-half years were identified on four premises. A clinical diagnosis of MCF was confirmed by the detection of ovine herpesvirus-2 DNA in peripheral blood leucocytes using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay that detects a specific 238 base-pair fragment of viral genomic DNA. Of the 11 cattle examined, six recovered clinically with the exception of bilateral corneal oedema with stromal keratitis (four animals) and unilateral perforating keratitis (one animal). The 10 animals available for postmortem examination had disseminated subacute to chronic arteriopathy. Recovery was associated with the resolution of the acute lymphoid panarteritis that characterises the acute phase of MCF, and with the development of generalised chronic obliterative arteriosclerosis. Bilateral leucomata were due in part to the focal destruction of corneal endothelium secondary to acute endothelialitis. Formalin-fixed tissues and/or unfixed lymphoid cells from all 11 cattle were positive for sheep-associated MCF by PCR. These observations indicate that recovery and chronic disease are a significant part of the clinical spectrum of MCF and that such cases occur with some frequency in the area studied. The affected cattle remain persistently infected by the putative sheep-associated MCF gammaherpesvirus.
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