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Bovine immunodeficiency virus: clinical disease

Synonym(s): BIV


  • Cause: bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV).
  • Signs: lymphadenopathy, persistent lymphocytosis.
  • Diagnosis: ELISA, PCR, virus isolation.
  • Treatment: primary disease is unlikely to be treated.
  • Prognosis: good if asymptomatic, poor if clinical signs, however positive cattle should be culled because of the risk to others.

Presenting signs

  • Little has been established about natural BIV infection of cattle.
  • Possibly non-pathogenic.
  • Not oncogenic.
  • Presumptive clinical signs are based on documented experimental disease and similarities to other lentiviruses e.g. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus).

Acute presentation

  • Persistently raised white blood cell count.
  • Lymphadenopathy.
  • Animals may be clinically normal and not decline for some time, if ever.
  • Possible weight loss and emaciation.

Geographic incidence

  • Serological and genomic evidence of BIV worldwide, including SW USA, Canada, Germany, Japan, Italy, Australia, Korea, Pakistan, Brazil and Zambia.
  • BIV virus isolation recorded in only 4 cases (South America and Louisiana, USA).
  • Seropositive cattle have been detected in the UK.

Age predisposition

  • Animals can be infected experimentally at any age.
  • Age predisposition of natural infection is undetermined.
  • Slow, progressive disease so clinical signs, if they occur, are more commonly expected in older animals.

Public health considerations

  • No evidence that BIV causes human (or any other mammalian) disease.
  • BIV is used as a safe model for understanding the genomics of other lentiviruses especially HIV.

Cost considerations

  • Individual cows - culling costs.
  • Herd costs - positive contact cows should be removed from the herd.

Special risks

  • Contact with infected body fluids of a BIV positive animal e.g. blood, semen, colostrum.
  • A serologically positive animal is a risk to the rest of the herd.
  • An infected bull has the potential to infect many cows at insemination before being detected.
  • Shared needles during routine procedures of cattle e.g. vaccination.
  • Communal sharing of colostrum Colostrum: overview.
  • Biting flies may also play a role in transmission.



  • BIV is a bovine specific retrovirus.
  • Similarities to other lentiviruses including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FeLV), caprine arthritis encephalitis virus (CAEV), equine infectious anemia (EIA) and Maedi Visna Virus (MVV).
  • Related to Jembrana disease virus Rickettsia: jembrana disease, a virus causing acute disease of Bali cattle.

Predisposing factors


  • Stress can activate the BIV virus causing seropositive animals to progress to clinical disease.
  • As yet, no evidence for vertical transmission like some lentiviruses (HIV).


  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) exacerbates signs of FIV in cats.
  • Experimental animals have suggested a similar association between BIV and bovine lymphosarcoma/leukemia.


  •  The pathophysiology of natural infection of cattle is not clear.
  • Cattle infected with BIV consistently -> viremia -> lymphadenopathy and persistently high WBC count.
  • EITHER a period of quiescence may follow with decreased WBC, immunosupression and secondary infections, emaciation and death
  • OR animal continues to be clinically normal.


  • BIV is a chronic disease.
  • There can be a long incubation period between infection and appearance of clinical signs.
  • Infected cattle are infected for life and do not eliminate the virus.


  • Spread occurs from an infected animal; herds with one seropositive animal are most likely to have several more seropositive animals in the herd.
  • Contaminated needles/instruments, shared colostrum, biting flies may help spread infection via body fluids from one animal to another.
  • Mating with an infected animal.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Zhang S, Wood C, Xue W, Krukenberg SM, Chen Q & Minocha H C (1997) Immune suppression in calves with bovine immunodeficiency virus. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol 4 (2), 232–5 PubMed.
  • Gonda M A (1992) Bovine immunodeficiency virus. AIDS 6 (8), 759–76.

Other sources of information

  • Muluneh A (1994) Seroprevalence of Bovine Immunodeficiency-virus (BIV) Antibodies in the Cattle Population in Germany. Zoonoses and Public Health 41 (1-10), 679-684.
  • Brownlie J, Collins ME, Heaton P (1994) Bovine Immunodeficieny-like virus - a potential cause of disease in cattle? Vet Rec 134 (12), 289-291.