- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Wildlife advocates, agricultural groups and others are excited about a potential change to the federal list of bioterrorism agents.

Federal officials are considering removing the bacterial species Brucella abortus from the list, which would lift burdens on brucellosis vaccine research, reported The Bozeman Daily Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1MrxIVf ).

Brucellosis is a disease prevalent in animals that can spread to people through unpasteurized dairy products.

Organisms on the bioterrorism list are believed to have the potential for public harm. They are difficult to obtain because of restrictions meant to keep them out of the hands of people who would misuse them, like terrorists.

Brucella abortus has been on the list since the early 2000s. The list is reviewed every two years and officials are considering Brucella abortus for removal this time around.

A formal public comment period on the proposal ends Monday. After that, the decision rests with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service.

If it is removed from the list, it will be much simpler for researchers to do research on improving the brucellosis vaccine. Such research has been stifled by the species’ inclusion on the bioterrorism list, which means researchers must fill out large amounts of paperwork, have specific research facilities and limit the amount of bacteria on hand.

Scientists have also had to deal with regulations that complicate the shipping process.

“It just made it extremely difficult to get our hands on the field strain of that bacteria,” said Eric Liska, the brucellosis program veterinarian with the Montana Department of Livestock.

Liska said a vaccine for brucellosis exists but isn’t as effective as researchers would like it to be.

Veterinarians and other experts have been calling for the organism to be removed from the list for years.

“The absurdity is that Brucella abortus is an endemic native organism in our environment,” said Tom Roffe, a former chief veterinarian with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The microorganism is already prevalent in bison and elk, he explained.

He said he has called for it to be removed from the bioterrorism list but met resistance from the CDC. There may be more flexibility toward Brucella abortus now, he said, but he still isn’t confident it will be removed.

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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