Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) is one of 126 species of the genus Mycoplasma. It is the smallest living cell and is anaerobic in nature.
As it does not contain any cell wall it is resistant to penicillin and other beta lactam antibiotics which target cell wall synthesis. Other mycobacteria are known to cause diseases including tuberculosis and Johnes Disease.
M. bovis was first isolated in the USA in 1962 and is now considered to be prevalent worldwide. In New Zealand (NZ), M. bovis was found at the start of 2017 and confirmed at two farms in South Canterbury in July 2017. More properties were found positive for M. bovis in Hawkes Bay and Southland in December 2017 and it is continuing to be found in farms around the country. The bacteria is an Unwanted Organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) are doing all they can to eradicate the disease from NZ.
M. bovis mainly affects cattle and has little effect on other production animals. It does not affect horses and domesticated animals but other animals, such as goats, while not affected can be carriers.
A collection of diseases, including mastitis in dairy cows, arthritis in cows and calves, pneumonia in calves, and various other diseases as well as late-term abortion can be caused by M. bovis. As well as calves being particularly susceptible to arthritis and respiratory disease they can also present with dullness and a fading syndrome. Not all infected cows get sick – some shed the disease without becoming ill, allowing for transmission between farms if these cows are moved.
Interestingly it is not a food safety risk, for the human population, there is no concern with eating meat, milk and other dairy products.
For more information about M. bovis and the MPI response, visit www.mpi.govt.nz.