Leptospirosis Vaccination: Overcoming milk drop in Co. Kilkenny

Leptospirosis is one of the most common causes of abortion in dairy and beef herds in Ireland and according to Richard Ryan from Ormonde Veterinary Hospital, now is the ideal time to take control of the disease through an effective vaccination programme.

“With the breeding season just around the corner, we have to watch out for key diseases that are going to impact herd fertility. Leptospirosis can be detrimental to fertility as it can contribute to decreased conception rates as well as abortions weeks after the initial infection.”

Patrick Darmody explains how he protects his herd against leptospirosis while local vet Richard Ryan gives some pre-breeding advice

One farmer who has seen the benefits of implementing a vaccination programme against Leptospirosis is Kilkenny farmer, Patrick Darmondy. A fourth-generation farmer, Patrick runs a dairy and beef enterprise alongside his mother and wife.

Achieving optimum herd health, fertility and survival are key priorities for Patrick. His herd is made up of 50% Holstein Friesian, British Friesian crosses to promote hybrid vigour and 100% AI is carried out on the farm in order to maintain a closed herd policy. 

Clinical signs of Leptospirosis

The first step in protecting against any animal disease is identifying the cause of the problem. There are two serovars of Leptospirosis commonly found in cattle in Ireland – Leptospira interrogans hardjo and Leptospira borgpetersenii hardjo. Leptospirosis circulates in a herd by direct transmission from infected animals (new infections or carrier animals) or by indirect transmission through urine, birth fluids, milk, contaminated water, or other species.

According to Richard, Leptospirosis can affect cows in a variety of ways. “Similar to what was happening on Patrick’s farm, your herd may experience milk drop syndrome. However, one of the biggest problems we see on farm is decreased conception rates and also abortions, which can typically occur 6-12 weeks after the initial infection.”

Diagnosing Leptospirosis

Diagnosis of the disease is based on blood sampling and looking for high antibody levels in affected animals, however this can prove difficult. Often the infection is present 6-to-12 weeks before clinical signs become apparent (e.g. low pregnancy rates picked up at scanning).

It can also be based on the culturing of urine samples. In addition, leptospiral abortion diagnosis is best based on the identification of bacteria in the foetus.

Failure to control the disease can not only have a detrimental effect on the health and production of the herd, but it can affect people too as it is a zoonotic disease – it can cause disease in humans. Common forms of transmission include contact with urine, afterbirth or the aborted foetus of an infected animal.

Vaccination is the number one control strategy

Vaccination is the most reliable way of protecting your herd from Leptospirosis and according to Richard, “We vaccinate to protect your herd but also to help to protect you.”

It is essential to vaccinate heifers before their first pregnancy. The primary vaccination course consists of 2 injections 4-6 weeks apart, and thereafter, an annual booster before turnout and at least 2 weeks before breeding.  It is a 2 ml dose, given under the skin to all cattle greater than one month of age. The correct use and timing of vaccination are vital to their success and always read the manufacturers recommendations.

Why vaccinate with Leptavoid-H?

Vaccination is a crucial part in controlling this highly infectious disease, however to provide full protection, it is vital to vaccinate against both strains of bacteria that cause the disease.

Leptavoid-H is unique in the fact that it is the only vaccine licensed to protect against both strains of Leptospira hardjo. It is also the only vaccine that is licensed to improve conception rates where Leptospirosis has been diagnosed as a cause of infertility. Another additional benefit of Leptavoid-H is that it can be used on the same day as Bovilis BVD (to cattle greater than eight months of age).

According to Patrick, “Since vaccinating with Leptavoid-H, there has been no going back. I know the vaccine works; fertility has improved, we have had no milk drops and with Leptospirosis being a zoonotic disease, there is reduced risk to anyone working here on the farm.

“We also find it extremely convenient that we can vaccinate with Leptavoid-H at the same time as vaccinating against BVD using Bovilis BVD.”


Animal Health remains a priority on farm – Leptospirosis focus

We are currently in the middle of unprecedented times with regard to human health. We must all adhere to guidelines from the HSE with regard to personal hygiene and social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. Despite the global pandemic facing humans, animal health remains a priority for farmers.

Grazing systems have been largely disrupted by the weather this spring. Calving is drawing to a close and turnout to grass is beginning to happen in parts of the country where ground conditions allow. As calving comes to an end, focus turns to breeding management. Selecting the correct genetics is vital to the performance of the herd and in order to fully achieve the genetic potential of the herd, correct decisions with regard management, nutrition and animal health must occur. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on Leptospirosis, a disease that cattle are exposed to while at pasture and can effect their reproducitve performance.

In the pre-recorded video below, Cara Sheridan (Technical Advisor – MSD Animal Health) outlines the effect of Leptospirosis disease on cattle performance and mechanisms by which Leptospirosis can be controlled.

Leptospirosis is one of the most common causes of abortion in cattle in Ireland. It is an endemic disease, meaning that the majority of herds test positive for it.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease meaning it can cause disease in humans. Leptospirosis can be acquired from contact with urine, afterbirth or aborted foetus of an infected animal. Esentially, all those working with stock are potentially at risk. Clinical signs of the disease in humans are flu-like, with headaches and fever, occasionally progressing to meningitis.

  • There are two serovars of Leptospirosis commonly found in cattle in Ireland;

Leptospira interrogans hardjo and Leptospira borgpetersenii hardjo

Leptospirosis circulates in a herd by direct transmission from infected animals (new infections or carrier animals) or by indirect transmission through urine, birth fluids, milk, contaminated water or other species e.g. sheep. Leptospirosis is very difficult to eradicate as some cows can become carriers. Leptospires can also survive for up to six weeks in wet soil and stagnant water or slow moving streams.Clinical Signs of Leptospirosis

Early signs are usually mild and transient and therefore may go unnoticed.

The most common clinical signs include;

  • Milk drop – A sudden decrease in milk yield
  • Abortions – Usually occur 6-12 weeks after the initial infection.

Abortion rates may be up to 30% in a herd infected for the first time.

  • Infertility – Low pregnancy rates and therefore increased culling due to low fertility
  • Weak calves – Infection in late pregnancy can result in the birth of weak calves that die within a few hours of birth

Diagnosis of Leptospirosis

Based on;

  • Blood sampling and looking for high antibodies level in affected animals (which can prove difficult as often the infection were present 6-12 weeks before clinical signs become apparent e.g. low pregnancy rates picked up at scanning)
  • Culture of urine samples
  • Leptospiral abortion diagnosis is best based on finding bacteria in the foetus

Speak to your vet about investigating Leptospirosis in your herd.

Control of Leptospirosis

  • Isolation of the sick cow and aborting cow
  • Biosecurity  – Avoid the introduction of infected animals
  • Quarantine until test negative
  • Double fencing at perimeters
  • Vaccination – The only practical way of controlling Leptospirosis

Timing of Vaccination

It is essential to vaccinate heifers before their first pregnancy. The primary vaccination course consists of 2 injections 4-6 weeks apart and thereafter an annual booster before turnout and at least 2 weeks before breeding.  It is a 2ml dose, given under the skin to all cattle >1 month of age. The correct use and timing of vaccination are vital to their success, always read the manufacturers recommendations.

Why vaccinate with Leptavoid-H?

  • Leptavoid-H is the only vaccine licensed to protect against both strains of Leptospira hardjo
  • Leptavoid-H is the only vaccine that is licensed to improve conception rates where Leptospirosis has been diagnosed as a cause of infertility
  • Leptavoid-H can be used on the same day as Bovilis BVD (to cattle >8 months of age)