Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)

Moredun-logoSummary written by Peter Nettleton MBE, BVMS, MSc, PhD, MRCVS and Tara Crook BSc (hons), MRes

Taken from Moredun Foundation Newsheet Volume 5 No. 7 (2010)



  • gloucester cattleInfectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) is a widespread disease of major financial importance to beef and dairy farmers around the world.
  • IBR is caused by bovine herpesvirus 1 (BoHV-1).
  • BoHV-1 is an alphaherpesvirus which only infects cattle. Virtually all animal species have their own alphaherpesvirus. In man, the common alphaherpesvirus causes cold sores which, following initial infection can reappear at times of stress.
  • The most common symptoms of IBR are fever, coughing and discharge from the nose and eyes. The disease is highly infectious.
  • Infection with BoHV-1 can also cause pneumonia, abortion, venereal infection; fever and milk drop in dairy cows, and deaths in young calves.
  • After the first infection, virus is never totally removed from the animal. It stays behind in nerve cells in the brain as a life-long latent (hidden) infection. However, at times of stress the virus can begin to multiply again and may be re-excreted, generally from the nose and the eyes; an animal which has been infected can never be considered safe.
  • There is a rapid immune response to a primary infection. Serum antibody against BoHV-1 is detectable 10 days after first infection and remains detectable for years.
  • Latently infected cattle are identified by testing serum or milk for antibody to BoHV-1. Any cow with BoHV-1antibody can potentially excrete virus at any time.
  • Diseases caused by the virus can be serious; therefore it is a barrier to international trade. Cattle with BoHV-1antibody cannot be exported to BoHV-1-free countries. Neither can they be accepted into an artificial insemination (AI) centre.
  • At least six European countries have successfully eradicated BoHV-1 and others have instituted national or regional control and eradication programmes.
  • Control is based on the use of vaccines. The use of marker vaccines is preferred since the antibody they stimulate can be distinguished from the BoHV-1 antibody that follows a natural infection.
  • There are at least six different vaccines to protect cattle against BoHV-1. Discuss with your vet which ones are best for your farming system. Consider joining a CHeCS-approved Cattle Health scheme to monitor the BoHV-1 status of your herd.


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