ISSN 2398-2993      

Bovine herpes virus overview


Veronica Fowler

Tammy Hassel

Synonym(s): IBR, infectious pustular vulvovaginitis, balanoposthitis, mamillitis, abortion, pseudo lumpy skin disease, encephalitis




  • Family: herpesviridae.
  • Subfamily: alphaherpesvirinae.
  • Species: bovine herpesvirus 1 (BoHV-1), 2 (BoHV-2) and 5 (BoHV-5).


  • Greek: herpein, meaning “to creep” – refers to the sequential appearance and local extension of lesions in human infection

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Clinical Effects



  • BoHV-1: via respiratory or genital secretions and therefore close grouping of cattle promotes transmission. Cattle can have latent infections which can be re-activated following times of stress (eg transportation). Less common routes of transmission include infection via contact with aborted fetuses.
  • BoHV-2: via fluid from lesions and via indirect and direct contact during milking (calves can also become infected by ingestion of infected milk). Insects may play a role in mechanical transmission.

Pathological effects

  • Incubation period is around 4 to 10 days.
  • BoHV-1: (1.1) primary replication is in the upper respiratory tract within the mucus membranes.
    • From here the virus can move into nerves from where it can enter the trigeminal ganglion and remain dormant.
    • Virus can also remain dormant in the tonsils.
    • During the viremic phase it is possible for fetal infection to occur which is followed by abortion. (1.2a and 1.2b): primary replication is in the vagina or prepuce mucus membranes. From here the virus can move into the sacral ganglia and remain dormant.
    • Unlike subtype 1.1, there is no viremia associated with subtypes 1.2a and 1.2b.
  • BoHV-2: replication occurs within mucus membranes producing skin nodules.


Control via animal

  • Infected animals should be isolated and milked separately.
  • First-lactation cows should be milked first.
  • Only import cattle from disease free herds.
  • Semen should only be used from certified disease free herds.

Control via environment

  • Disinfection of communal equipment between cows is recommended.
  • Insect control may be beneficial.


  • BoHV-1: vaccines are available. Vaccines prevent clinical disease but do not necessarily prevent against latent infections. The problem with the vaccines are that they induce antibodies which cannot be distinguished from those from natural infection.
  • BoHV-2: vaccines are not available.
  • BoHV-5: vaccines are not available.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Raaperi K, Orro T & Viltrop A (2014) Epidemiology and control of bovine herpesvirus 1 infection in Europe. Vet J 201 (3), 249-256 PubMed.
  • Del Médico Zajac M P, Ladelfa M F, Kotsias F, Muylkens B, Thiry J, Thiry E & Romera S A (2010) Biology of bovine herpesvirus 5. Vet J 184 (2), 138-145 PubMed.
  • Nandi S, Kumar M, Manohar M & Chauhan R S (2009) Bovine herpes virus infections in cattle. Anim Health Res Rev 10 (1), 85-98 PubMed.
  • Van Drunen Littel-van den Hurk S (2007) Cell-mediated immune responses induced by BHV-1: rational vaccine design. Expert Rev Vaccines 6 (3), 369-380 PubMed.
  • Thiry J, Keuser V, Muylkens B, Meurens F, Gogev S, Vanderplasschen A & Thiry E (2006) Ruminant alphaherpesviruses related to bovine herpesvirus 1. Vet Res 37 (2), 169-190 PubMed.


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