Salmonella outbreak at UVM farm quickly quelled

What could have led to a bad salmonella outbreak earlier this week in the cow farm of the UVM Paul Miller Research Complex was quickly and successfully contained by UVM farm workers, and no cows were lost due to the disease. On Saturday, Feb. 16, John Messier, the UVM farm Interim Director and other farm workers noticed that 45 cows were getting sick.John Messier assists and manages the farm on a day to day basis. He immediately called the Vergennes Veterinary Clinic, which is currently in charge of the veterinary care of the farm, Messier said. Mike Vayda, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, whose role is to oversee the farm for research and teaching purposes, was then contacted.”We had 45 cows that were inflicted. They had dysentery diarrhea, this is how we could tell they were sick. It was like human food poisoning, they were feeling maladies, laying down a lot and milk production had dropped,” Vayda said. “Dr. Annie Starrich and her veterinary team from the Vergennes Clinic came to the farm to test the quality of the feed for problems,” Messier said. “Dr. Starrich tested feed samples and they came back negative for salmonella.” Dr. Ruth Blauwiekel is a university veterinarian who used to do all clinic work for the university farm until the responsibility was given to the Vergennes Animal Clinic this past July. The Vergennes clinic became the primary care veterinarian but Dr. Ruth still oversees the farm from time to time.”I was asked to take a look around to see if all correct procedures were being followed. I went on Wednesday afternoon,” Dr. Blauwiekel said.Dr. Blauwiekel observed the feeding process for contamination in the feed to see if there was a connection to what was making the cows sick. “Salmonella transmission is from the feces and other animals get it into their mouths and get sick,” Dr. Blauwiekel said. “When they become clinically ill with salmonella, they shed it at an overwhelming pace.” Many species of animals including human beings carry salmonella in their digestive tracts. Only a fraction of cows carry clinical salmonella in their digestive system, Dr. Blauwiekel said. “Often a clinical case of salmonella is initiated by a stressor in the cows or other farm animals” Dr. Blauwiekel said. “Something disrupts their intestinal flora. It could be feed, transport, recent calving or various other things.”Salmonella bacteria overwhelm other micro-flora in their system and then they present a challenge to other animals in the herd. “There were 45 cows that dropped off in milk production. Some had mild diarrhea and were quite ill” Dr. Blauwiekel said. “We don’t know if they were sick with salmonella.” “We separated the cows so they wouldn’t spread disease to rest of herd, we tried to limit the spread” Vayda said. “Over the first two days there was an increase of cows who were infected. It has stopped now and the cows that were infected are getting better and we seem to have controlled the outbreak.” Dr. Starrich and Dr. Blauwiekel suggested that the eight cows that were most ill be treated with antibiotics to fight off bacteria infection. These antibiotics can be administered as a shot or orally into the feed Vayda said. Salmonella is like having the flu or food poisoning for humans. The best thing for the animals is rest and fluid Vayda said. On Thursday the entire herd of about 275 cows were given a vaccine against salmonella. Vayda said the vaccine helps to boost their immune system so their bodies can fight off the bacteria from the disease.”Dr. Starrich has said this is an unusual winter, we have noticed a number of disease outbreaks at plenty of Vermont farms,” Vayda said. “They believe it could be weather related due to the fluctuation in temperature. Winter dysentery is a common occurrence on farms.” “Currently entry into the barn is restricted. We want to make sure we have this under control before we expose this to the public or students,” Dr. Blauwiekel said. “Humans are just as susceptible to the disease as the animals.”The staff and the public will be separated to limit traffic going in and out of the barn. “We are using biosecurity mats and everyone working on the farm is being asked to use more hygiene as a precaution,” Messier said. “We’re trying to give them the best veterinary care that we can,” Vayda said. “No cows have currently died from the outbreak.”