- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A highly contagious livestock disease that has spread from southern states as far north as South Dakota has officials concerned in North Dakota, where the illness hasn’t been diagnosed for nearly eight decades.

Horses and cattle infected with vesicular stomatitis have been found this year in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and South Dakota. Infected animals become lame, have difficulty eating and lose weight. Cases in South Dakota have grown from two late last month to 13 either confirmed or suspected, mostly in the Black Hills region, State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said.

“Not since 1982 has it been identified in South Dakota,” he said.

North Dakota officials say there is no indication of the disease being present in the state since 1937. The Board of Animal Health has implemented expanded requirements for livestock imports from states with vesicular stomatitis to try to keep out the disease, which spreads through biting insects, direct contact with infected animals and contact with contaminated equipment.

A certificate of veterinary inspection that has always been required now must include a statement that the animal hasn’t originated from an area with the disease and shows no sign of it. It also must include the inspecting veterinarian’s permit number, so North Dakota officials can communicate with the vet if needed.

“It’s to protect (animals) and minimize the impacts of the disease,” said State Veterinarian Susan Keller.

Vesicular stomatitis infects mainly horses and cattle, though other animals including swine, sheep, goats and llamas also are susceptible. It’s rarely fatal but can cause economic hardship for people who own performance animals such as rodeo stock and for cattle ranchers.

“It can really wreak havoc if a dairy becomes infected,” Oedekoven said.

The disease appears to be cyclical and officials don’t completely understand why it is so prevalent this year, though Oedekoven said ideal environmental conditions for biting flies and midges are a likely reason.

Many of the states with confirmed cases are points of travel for rodeo performers in North Dakota. There also is cattle movement among North Dakota and many of the states.

“A couple of years ago, for instance, when much of the South was in severe, severe drought, large groups of cattle from Texas came to North Dakota for summer grazing, because precipitation and grass were plentiful here,” said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the state’s largest rancher group.

An additional concern in North Dakota is the movement of animals into neighboring Canada.

“Canada will not take horses from a vesicular stomatitis state,” Keller said. “Horses have to go to another state for 21 days, and then they can go.”

South Dakota also implemented stricter livestock import requirements when the disease surfaced in nearby states, but those didn’t keep the disease out. The state’s Animal Industry Board is stressing good sanitation and biosecurity measures among animal owners to help prevent a widespread outbreak.

“We haven’t had any (cases) in South Dakota for 30 years,” Oedekoven said. “We don’t want to see it firmly established here.”

Nor do North Dakota officials. “We’ve been very lucky in recent years,” Keller said.

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