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An ecological perspective on the changing face of Brucella abortus in the western United States

January 1, 2013

After a hiatus during the 1990s, outbreaks of Brucella abortus in cattle are occurring more frequently in some of the western states of the United States, namely, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. This increase is coincident with increasing brucellosis seroprevalence in elk (Cervus elaphus), which is correlated with elk density. Vaccines are a seductive solution, but their use in wildlife systems remains limited by logistical, financial, and scientific constraints. Cattle vaccination is ongoing in the region. Livestock regulations, however, tend to be based on serological tests that test for previous exposure and available vaccines do not protect against seroconversion. The authors review recent ecological studies of brucellosis, with particular emphasis on the Greater Yellowstone Area, and highlight the management options and implications of this work, including the potential utility of habitat modifications and targeted hunts, as well as scavengers and predators. Finally, the authors discuss future research directions that will help us to understand and manage brucellosis in wildlife.