Borrelia spp

From Cow
Characteristic corkscrew shaped Borrelia burgdorferi under light microscopy
A stillborn calf which died as a result of epizootic abortion, transmitted by Ornithodorus coriaceus

Borrelia spp are a Gram-negative anaerobic spirochete bacteria transmitted by Ornithodorus spp ticks and cause bovine epizootic abortion in cattle and Lyme disease in humans across the USA, Europe and Asia.

Species of Borrelia which are known to infect cattle include:

  • B. burgdorferia (Lyme disease)
  • B. crocidurae (Epizootic bovine abortion)
  • B. garinii
  • B. afzelii

In clinically affected cattle, fever, reduced milk production, lymphadenopathy, anorexia and joint pain have been reported. Erythematous lesions on the interdigital skin and hairless skin of the udder have been described[1].

Abortions may be observed in pregnant cows[2]. This spirochete-like organism is frequently found in abattoir-collected fetuses[3].

Foetal abortions appear to be triggered by vasculitis as a result of Borrelia spp colonisation of fetal lymph nodes and spleen. These foci frequently formed pyogranulomas[4].

Experimental infections induced in cattle with B. burgdorferi, B. garinii and B. afzelii failed to induce any clinical symptoms[5], suggesting immunosensitivity to the bacteria may play a role in pathogenesis of disease.

A diagnosis is determined based on clinical signs supported by ELISA or PCR testing.

Affected cattle often respond to broad-spectrum antimicrobial therapy such as penicillins and tetracyclines.

Control of tick populations will minimise spread and outbreaks of this disease. Vaccines are not commercially used in cattle although they are available for other species.


  1. Lischer CJ et al (2000) Diagnosis of Lyme disease in two cows by the detection of Borrelia burgdorferi DNA. Vet Rec 146(17):497-499
  2. Burgess EC et al (1993) Borrelia burgdorferi infection in dairy cows, rodents, and birds from four Wisconsin dairy farms. Vet Microbiol 35(1-2):61-77
  3. Osebold JW et al (1987) Histopathologic changes in bovine fetuses after repeated reintroduction of a spirochete-like agent into pregnant heifers: association with epizootic bovine abortion. Am J Vet Res 48(4):627-633
  4. Kennedy PC et al (1983) Epizootic bovine abortion: histogenesis of the fetal lesions. Am J Vet Res 44(6):1040-1048
  5. Tuomi J et al (1998) Experimental infection of cattle with several Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato strains; immunological heterogeneity of strains as revealed in serological tests. Vet Microbiol 60(1):27-43