After 50 years and millions of dollars, the goal to make the U.S. brucellosis-free by the end of 1998 is close at hand, says Claude Barton, director of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The disease has been reduced to a dozen infected cattle herds in nine Class A states. Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma have either been declared free or are in final stages of review. No disease cases have been found in the commercial hog industry in several years.

It has been a long battle with 125,000 infected cattle herds in 1957, dropping to 50 in March 1998, Barton reports. Thirteen herds are quarantined; one a captive bison herd in South Dakota.

Barton congratulated the industry at a recent Livestock Conservation Institute (LCI) meeting, but cautioned that the battle isn't over even if the goal is reached. Intensive surveillance to find new cases will be needed for several years, as shown by experiences in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, he warns.

Two Major Problems

Two problems linger, both relating to wild game and feral (wild) pigs.

* The attempt to introduce free-ranging elk in many states, mainly in the Southeast. These programs are opposed by the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) and state departments of agriculture, along with LCI. These agencies and organizations are concerned because neither federal nor state associations have adequate authority to eradicate diseases from wildlife.

* The long-running problem of straying bison and elk from Yellowstone Park. The tension has quieted down, helped by the mild 1997-98 winter and a change in government policy.

Rather than shooting bison, animals straying outside the park are now captured in private traps. Those testing positive for brucellosis are slaughtered. If testing negative, they're released back into the park, according to Valerie Ragan, newly-appointed national brucellosis epidemiologist.

Because of the harsh 1996-97 winter, more than 1,000 bison were slaughtered or died. Today, helicopter surveillance indicates a Yellowstone Park population at about 2,100 bison, with few straying out of the park. Because of policy change and the mild 1997-98 winter, only nine bulls were captured through mid-March. "Five tested positive and went to slaughter," she says. "Four went back on public land."

Congress has appropriated $1 million to build a bison quarantine facility to hold captive animals after being found brucellosis free. Site and other details still must be worked out.

In addition, LCI, in cooperation with USDA-APHIS, has released a new 15-minute video called "Brucellosis Eradication in the U. S."

For a free copy of the video, contact Marilyn Hooker, USDA-APHIS, at 301/734-6954.