False bangs test prompts possible change

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 7, 2005
by WLJ
A false case of brucellosis from cattle in Campbell County, WY, could lead to a review of how laboratories nationwide handle tests for the cattle disease in the future, a veterinary official said.
I'm quite confident there will be a review of that protocol at a national level," said Sam Holland, chairman of the U.S. Animal Health Association's (USAHA) committee on brucellosis.
Holland, who is also the South Dakota state veterinarian, said he requested USDA review federal protocols for culturing brucella nationwide, "in light of the recent event and information gleaned from that experience."
Four months ago, the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Brookings, SD, determined that two Campbell County cattle tested positive for brucellosis, which causes cattle to abort. The news caused much concern among ranchers in northeast Wyoming, where brucellosis had never been found before.
Extensive testing of the rest of the herd, surrounding herds and more than 130 elk in the region turned up no sign of the disease, raising the possibility that the lab mistakenly contaminated the samples.
However, the South Dakota lab had destroyed the tested samples, leaving no way to double check its findings.
The Wyoming State Veterinary Lab stores its positive brucellosis tests.
"So if someone wondered if we screwed up in some way, we could send them the tissues, and then they could try and repeat what we did to try and be sure," said Donal O'Toole, director of the Wyoming lab.
Brucella abortus is considered a "select agent" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning the substance could be used in bioterrorism and thus is subject to strict federal regulations for storage.
"It's easier to destroy the sample than it is to lock it, archive it, mark it, account for it, store it, sign in and out for it," Holland said.
The talk of changing lab procedures isn't much comfort for the owners of the Campbell County herd involved in the original testing by the South Dakota lab.
Justin and Heather Edwards and their family lived with the stigma of brucellosis for more than three months. Their 400 head of Angus were quarantined and tested, and 2,500 cattle in surrounding herds were also tested.
"Our name's been drug across every paper in the western United States," Edwards said. "If someone said McDonald's had (BSE) in their hamburgers, and three months later they said, ‘Well, we might have made a mistake,’ there would be a certain number of people who would never eat at McDonald's again. It's the same way for us.”
The quarantine on Edwards' herd was lifted in late November.
The whole experience has left Edwards feeling a bit exasperated, but not enough to put him off ranching.
"As producers, we're at the mercy of the labs," Edwards said. "We don't get the samples when our cattle are processed. It's all out of our hands. You have to put your faith in the system and hope it doesn't fail you like it did in this case." — WLJ