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Visicular Stomatitis Outbreak Over 8 Months And 4 States Later

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Drs. Brent Thompson and Fred Bourgeois
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Colorado Department of Agriculture

An outbreak of a livestock virus has finally come to an end. Colorado officials announced the last remaining properties under quarantine for vesicular stomatitis have been released.

The outbreak began in Texas in May, and eventually spread to Colorado, Nebraska and Arizona. The virus cases painful blisters and sores around the mouth, nose and sometimes foot of the affected animal. Without treatment animals can die.

"Diseases are like forest fires," said State Veterinarian Dr. Keith Roehr. "For a fire you have to have a spark, in this case the spark is the virus. Then you have to have a susceptible population of animals, that's like dry firewood. And then you have to have something that moves it, in this case a competent insect factor which acts like the wind moving the fire through the forest."

Weld County saw the first Colorado case in June, and would go on to have 97 properties quarantined, the most in the state. The virus’ rapid spread into counties to the south and east prompted the state veterinarian’s office to quarantine 370 properties overall. 

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Credit Jackie Fortier / Colorado Department of Agriculture
Only 199 properties were quarantined in Colorado in 2009, compared to 370 in 2014

Officials also issued recommendations to livestock owners from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to keep fly populations in check, and avoid the transfer of feeding equipment, cleaning tools or health care equipment from other herds in order to try to stem the spread.

Other states became concerned about the continued growth of the virus in Colorado, and instituted restrictions on the export of almost all of Colorado's multimillion dollar livestock industry. It is unknown what harm was done to Colorado's economy, because of the time it took to meet those requirements and the harm done to the state's reputation.

"We had a dairy that was near Fort Morgan that wanted to ship 400 dairy cows to California," said Dr. Roehr. "And in order for California to take them we had to show that there were no quarantine premises within a 10 mile radius of the dairy. Initially when that request to move was made there were half a dozen facilities that were under quarantine, so it took about three weeks of time before those facilities were released from quarantine then those cows could be inspected and when they were found of being clear of clinical signs they were moved to California."

The quarantine strategies and fly control methods utilized were developed after a severe outbreak in 1995. That summer, following an unusually wet spring, 367 properties in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Texas were positive for vesicular stomatitis.

A survey of 16 ranchers in Colorado's San Luis Valley whose beef herds were affected by the 1995 outbreak shows on average, the financial loss was $15,565 per ranch.

The most recent outbreak is far worse than what experts consider the last significant outbreak in the state 10 years ago.

"We haven't seen an outbreak in Colorado since 2004," said Dr. Roehr. Documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the 2014 outbreak easily eclipsed past numbers.

Only 199 properties were quarantined in Colorado in 2009, compared to 370 in 2014. Weld County had the most properties quarantined with 97, followed by 87 in Larimer and 76 in Boulder. Officials don’t know how many animals died as a result of the outbreak. 

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