ISSN 2398-2993      



Synonym(s): Vibriosis, Vibrio, Bovine venereal campylobacteriosis (BVC), Campylobacter fetus infection


  • Cause: the most relevant species of Campylobacter causing disease in cattle is Campylobacter fetus, in both subspecies C. fetus fetus and C. fetus venerealis. Other bacteria of this family (C. jejuni, sputorum and others) can cause sporadic disease in cattle. Cattle can also be asymptomatic carriers of other Campylobacters within the intestinal tract (enteric commensals).
  • Signs: reproductive disease (abortions, genital/venereal campylobacteriosis), enteritis, mastitis.
  • Diagnosis: clinical diagnosis on the basis of herd infertility and/or abortions; laboratory diagnosis consists primarily of microbiology and pathology, though other laboratory techniques, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), fluorescent antibody tests (FATs) and vaginal mucus agglutination tests (VMATs) are available to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Treatment: antibiotic treatment; culling; vaccination may be available in certain countries.
  • Prognosis: variable; mostly good for adult animals, especially as carriers are often asymptomatic. Poor for fetuses due to early reabsorption or abortion, or in the case of severe enteritis of very young or immunocompromised animals.



  • Campylobacters are thin, curved and spiral shaped rods, motile (have a flagellum) and Gram-negative Campylobacter spp.
  • They are microaerophilic and inactivated by drying and direct sunlight; this means its survival in the environment is not long lasting. May produce toxins and carry R plasmids, often resulting in resistance to tetracyclines.
  • Different species can be recognized by testing biochemical characteristics such as different incubation temperatures, catalase activity, antibiotic sensitivity and restricted media.
  • They are fastidious during growth in vitro.
  • C. fetus fetus and C. fetus venerealis are more common cause of disease in cattle; C. fetus venerealis biovar intermedius is characterized by being glycerin tolerant Vibrio fetus.

Predisposing factors


  • The many species of Campylobacter spp affect a multitude of animals, wild and domesticated, including most species of livestock, poultry and wild birds, rodents and even marine mammals.


  • Cows and heifers during estrus, as C. fetus venerealis spreads with coitus; also when pregnant.
  • Bulls, especially older animals (>3-4 years):
    • The individual predisposition varies.
    • As bulls age, the epithelial crypts in the prepuce and penis increase in number and size.
    • C. fetus venerealis thrives in the preputial and penile crypts, so as the animal ages and the crypts increase in size and number, C. fetus venerealis infection becomes harder to clear.
  • Very young animals.
  • Immunocompromised individuals.


  • Most Campylobacters replicate within the host’s intestine; they are able to adhere to and invade epithelial cells and the lamina propria, thanks to various processes. Motility, colonization of the intestinal mucus, attachment, internalization and translocation are used to cause pathology.
  • C. fetus venerealis is a specific pathogen of the reproductive tract and is able to establish itself in both male and female cattle. The abilities to adhere and colonize are also observed in the reproductive system:
    • Bulls: within the epithelial crypts of the penis and prepuce.
    • Cows: vagina and its mucus, cervix, uterus (invasion of endometrial epithelial cells).
  • Toxin production varies across species and contributes to virulence.


  • Cows or bulls become infected during natural service at estrus, or at the time of AI if using contaminated instruments (venereal campylobacteriosis).
  • C. fetus venerealis may present in a herd as acute or subacute/chronic condition; the precise timing of infection is rarely diagnosed, due to its ability to survive within carrier animals which may not show symptoms (bulls especially). Once the infected animals have been detected by testing, a presumptive date of entry in the herd might be established based on purchase records:
    • In a naïve herd, the acute presentation is more likely and is characterized by a large number of barren cows at routine pregnancy diagnosis sessions; cows in calf show a large variation in fetal age, suggestive of early pregnancy losses and subsequent later conceptions (up to and over 120 days in between).
    • The subacute or chronic presentation occurs in subsequent years, usually in older cows that have been exposed to the agent, and manifests with fluctuating fertility performance. Replacements added to the herd usually develop the acute presentation.
  • C. fetus venerealis infection may last years in a herd if it goes undetected in a stock bull or infected cows that never aborted but consistently appear to have delayed conceptions.
  • C. fetus fetus and C. fetus venerealis are able to cause late abortions, from 4 months onwards.
  • Enteritis caused by Campylobacter spp has variable incubation periods depending on species virulence, status of the host and immunocompetency; usually between 24-72 h.
  • Duration of acute symptoms of enteritis is also variable; usually up to one week. Some animals may become chronic carriers when the symptoms subside.


  • Transmission occurs by direct or indirect contact with infected material: feces, vaginal and preputial discharges, aborted material. Flies Cattle flies and larvae: overview can act as mechanical vector and fomites may be implicated in its transmission.
  • Ingestion may occur via contaminated feed or water sources; water courses may become contaminated by the infected feces of birds or livestock.
  • C. fetus venerealis survives within the reproductive system:
    • Bulls: glandular crypts of the prepuce.
    • Cows: vaginal environment and its mucus.
  • Natural service and AI can both transmit venereal campylobacteriosis; horizontal transmission between cows appears unlikely, though may occur in bulls when housed due to mounting behavior.
  • C. fetus venerealis infection in mature bulls tends to be persistent and refractory to treatment. This infection was not associated with clinical symptoms, altered semen quality or gross abnormalities of the reproductive tract.
  • Antibodies specific for C. fetus venerealis are produced in the female reproductive tract following infection; this response appears to be delayed by several months or not present in the male.
  • Systemic antibodies might be produced following enteric infection, but they may not be protective.
  • Whereas bulls might become persistently infected, cows tend to maintain infection for shorter periods of time (a few months within uterine structures due to higher IgG presence, but up to 24 months in the vagina where IgAs are more prevalent).


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Campos-Múzquiz L G, Méndez-Olvera E T, Arellano-Reynoso B & Martínez-Gómez D (2019) Campylobacter fetus is internalized by bovine endometrial epithelial cellsPol J Microbiol 68 (2), 217-224 PubMed.
  • Michi A N, Favetto P H, Kastelic J & Cobo E R (2016) A review of sexually transmitted bovine trichomoniasis and campylobacteriosis affecting cattle reproductive health. Theriogenology 85 (5), 781-791 PubMed.
  • Truyers I, Luke T, Wilson D & Sargison N (2014) Diagnosis and management of venereal campylobacteriosis in beef cattle. BMC Vet Res 10, 280 PubMed.
  • Morrell E L, Barbeito C G, Odeón C A, Gimeno E J & Campero C M (2011) Histopathological, immunohistochemical, lectinhistochemical and molecular findings in spontaneous bovine abortions by Campylobacter fetus. Reprod Domest Anim 46 (2), 309-315 PubMed.
  • Campero C M, Anderson M L, Walker R L et al (2005) Immunohistochemical identification of Campylobacter fetus in natural cases of bovine and ovine abortionsJ Vet Med B Infect Dis Vet Public Health 52 (3), 138-141 PubMed.
  • Figueiredo J F, Pellegrin A O, Foscolo C D, Machada R P, Miranda K L & Lage A P (2002) Evaluation of the direct fluorescent antibody test for the diagnosis of bovine genital campylobacteriosis. Rev Latinoam Microbiol 44 (3-4), 118–123 PubMed.
  • Hum S, Quinn C & Kennedy D (1994) Diagnosis of bovine venereal campylobacteriosis by ELISA. Aust Vet J 71 (5), 140-143 PubMed.
  • Hum S, Brunner J, McInnes A M, Mendoza G & Stephens L R (1994) Evaluation of cultural methods for the isolation of Campylobacter fetus subsp. venerealis. Aust Vet J 71 (6), 184–186 PubMed.
  • Hoffer M A (1981) Bovine campylobacteriosis: a review. Can Vet J 22 (11), 327–330 PubMed.
  • Bier P, Hall C, Duncan J & Winter A (1977) Experimental infections with Campylobacter fetus in bulls of different ages. Vet Microbiol 2, 13–27 VetMedResource.
  • Schurig G D, Hall C E, Burda K, Corbeil L B, Duncan J R & Winter A J (1974) Infection patterns in heifers following cervicovaginal or intrauterine instillation of Campylobacter (Vibrio) fetus venerealis. Cornell Vet 64 (4), 533–548 PubMed.
  • Corbeil L B, Schurig G D, Duncan J R, Corbeil R R & Winter A J (1974) Immunoglobulin classes and biological functions of Campylobacter (Vibrio) fetus antibodies in serum and cervicovaginal mucus. Infect Immun 10 (3), 422–429 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Donald P (2020) Bovine Genital Campylobacteriosis. MSD Manual Veterinary Medicine, USA. Website:
  • Tabor A E (2015) Overview of Enteric Campylobacteriosis. MSD Manual Veterinary Medicine, USA. Website:
  • Wetlands Supporting Groups of Susceptible Animals (online) Campylobacteriosis. World Wildlife Trust, UK. pp 217-221. Website: (pdf download).

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