In this cross-sectional study, a stratified two-stage random sampling procedure was employed to select 221 dairy herds for bulk tank milk (BTM) sampling, and a subset of 55 dairy herds for individual blood sampling of a number of young animals (spot test), to predict presence or absence of current BVDV infection, and for data collection. The prediction was based on the high probability of seropositivity in groups of animals where PI animals are present because of the efficient spread of virus from PI animals to the surrounding group. BTM samples were collected in August 2003 (n = 192) and February 2004 (n = 195), and the 55 herds selected for spot testing and data collection were visited in December 2003. All samples were tested for presence of BVDV specific antibodies using a commercial indirect ELISA (SVANOVA Biotech AB, Uppsala, Sweden). The results demonstrated a very high level of exposure to BVDV in the region, and the proportion of herds with high antibody levels in the BTM was above 95% on both occasions. Despite this, almost two thirds of the herds had spot test results indicating absence of current infection, suggesting a high probability of self-clearance. A logistic regression model with the results from the spot tests as dependent variable was used to investigate possible herd and management factors associated with self-clearance, and suggested that this may occur regardless of herd size. Even though it is well established that the process of identification and elimination of PI animals is required within a systematic BVDV eradication programme, the present study strongly suggests that many herds may be cleared without intervention even in regions with high cattle density and high BVDV prevalence. Consequently, in any BVDV infected population (regardless of the herd-level BVDV seroprevalence), and at any given point of time, a large proportion of the herds will be free from infection due to self-clearance. Self-clearance is therefore a process that works in favour of any effort to control BVDV, which should be taken into account when planning and assessing the cost-effectiveness of a systematic control programme.
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We thank Professor Stefan Alenius for comments on the manuscript and Mariluz Arainga for technical assistance. We also thank Rafael Alameda, Leonel Diaz and the employees at Gloria S.A. for their assistance with sampling and data collection, and finally the dairy farmers in Arequipa for their participation in this study. This work was supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida/SAREC.