A lurking bacteria in cattle finally surfaces | TheFencePost.com

A lurking bacteria in cattle finally surfaces

Because bibersteinia is difficult to identify without the proper bacteria culture or polymerase chain reaction confirmation tests, it is suggested that ranchers look for abnormalities in bovine respiratory disease.
Photo by Lindsay King |

Something lurks just below the surface: bibersteinia trehalosi. A mouthful to say and a handful for cattle ranchers to deal with in their herds. A relative to mannheimia hemolitica and a strain of pasteurella, this bacteria is not new.

“It was probably about 2011 when we finally had the diagnostic tools to sort out which pathogen was which,” said Brian Lubbers, Kansas State University director of the microbiology lab in the veterinary diagnostic lab. “Bibersteinia trehalosi has probably been there for much longer than we have been able to identify it.”

Mannheimia hemolitica, pasteurella multocida and haemophilus somnus are the three bacteria traditionally associated with bovine respiratory disease. Until recently it was difficult to differ between these three bacteria and bibersteinia trehalosi. “There are people that believe it causes BRD, bovine pneumonia,” Lubbers said. “And then there are people that are not yet convinced, but I am somewhere in the middle of the two.”

Bibersteinia is known to cause respiratory disease in sheep and buffalo. The mode of transportation is one of the many unknown factors about this pathogen.

“We do not have a lot of evidence yet that it does or does not cause BRD,” Lubbers said. “It is very closely related to pasturella and mannheimia, which are bacteria that we know cause respiratory disease.”

BRD is the biggest issue for cattle feeders in the past and presently. It is possible this bacteria has always been present in BRD cases, but was misidentified.

Roughly three years ago Michael Apley, Kansas State University professor of production medicine and clinical pharmacology, experienced his highest calf mortality rate at the hands of bibersteinia.

“I do not know if that means it is consistently the worst but that was the highest death loss I have ever experienced,” Apley said. “You have to be careful with that because that does not mean this pathogen will be that way for everyone.”

It is incorrect to say the nature of a bibersteinia outbreak is entirely at the fault of the pathogen. It takes a combination of susceptibility and exposure of the animals to get an actual outbreak, Apley added.

“In my case it was an aggressive outbreak, we treated them but with very poor response,” Apley said. “It had a very, very broad resistance profile to the vast majority of antibiotics that we had available to use. It showed resistance to basically everything we had, that doesn’t mean they all are though. This specific strain was a tough cookie.”


Difficult to identify without the proper bacteria culture or polymerase chain reaction confirmation tests, Lubbers recommended looking for abnormalities in BRD cases.

“Either the number of animals are more than you typically see or the overall presentation looks different,” Lubbers said. “So if you normally see respiratory disease in younger animals and now you are seeing it in older animals, or just something that is unusual about the disease. In those cases, getting the diagnosis faster is probably what you need to do to handle this disease the best.”

Lubbers does not recommend preventative antibiotics because it cannot be confirmed as a common cure of BRD. Instead, if you notice abnormalities in a BRD outbreak you should consider testing for bibersteinia.

“It is important to take some tissue samples, you can even take what is called a broncho alveolar lavage, which is basically passing a tube into the lungs to get a fluid sample,” Lubbers said. “We can culture that and you can do that in live animals. There are some things we can do to find it, but it really takes a culture to confirm it.”

Lubbers receives samples for cultures from veterinarians and producers all across the Midwest and he always encourages people to test for bibersteinia. Their breadth of knowledge about the pathogen depends on the utilization of technologys’ ability to decipher between the different bacteria related to BRD.

“I always encourage people to ask about bibersteinia in those cases,” Lubbers said. “It may be a combination of the traditional bacteria and bibersteinia. We do see that fairly frequently in our lab but it is less than 5 percent of all cases we get. It is frequent but still not very common.”

Antibiotic therapy is not to blame for bibersteinia, if blame should be placed it can only go towards technology becoming more sensitive to different strains of bacteria in the same family.

“The antibiotics that we use for pasteurella will generally work with bibersteinia but each is obviously isolated to each individual,” Lubbers said. “We have seen pasteurella develop resistance to common antibiotics and we can see bibersteinia that are also resistant to common antibiotics. That is also something we do in my lab, if we are able to culture that particular isolate we can test it on a panel of antibiotics to see which would be the most appropriate choice for that particular outbreak.”

It is still too early to tell what to look for externally in a bibersteinia case, the size of the animal or stress level is not a good indication, the only true confirmation is a culture in a lab.

“I think it is good to be aware of it, I think just letting people know there is nothing, that we see, that this is not some super bug or anything like that,” Lubbers said. “It has probably been there for a long time it is just now we are finding it and recording it so people are more aware of it. We think it is good for people to be aware of it because when we go to look for the traditional bacteria that cause respiratory disease we should probably also look for this one, just to cover all of the bases.” ❖

— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb., and a graduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at lindsay.v.king@okstate.edu.