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November 6, 2023
posted in: Conservation, News

Fatal respiratory disease (pneumonia) and its effects on populations is a primary management concern in most jurisdictions with bighorn sheep. Decades of research have identified Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi), a bacterium that damages the cells lining the respiratory tract, as a “trigger” that allows other bacteria to invade the lungs, causing pneumonia. To understand M. ovi infection dynamics, researchers repeatedly tested free-ranging and captive bighorn ewes from infected herds and found that some always, or almost always, tested positive for M. ovi. These long-term carriers can infect newborn lambs that have little immunity. Infected lambs spread M. ovi to other lambs in nursery groups, usually resulting in pneumonia-related deaths before 8 weeks of age. Poor to no lamb survival is common in M. ovi infected herds and is a pattern that can last for decades.

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