Dynamics of somatic cell count patterns as a proxy for transmission of mastitis pathogens

Dalen, Gunnar; Rachah, Amira; Nørstebø, Håvard; Schukken, Ynte H.; Reksen, Olav


Management of udder health is particularly focused on preventing new infections. Data from the DeLaval Online Cell Counter (DeLaval, Tumba, Sweden) may be used in forecasting to improve decision support for improved udder health management. It provides online cell counts (OCC) as a proxy for somatic cell counts from every milking at the cow level. However, these values are typically too insensitive and nonspecific to indicate subclinical intramammary infection (IMI). Our aim was to describe and evaluate use of dynamic transmission models to forecast subclinical IMI episodes using milk cultures or changes in OCC patterns over time. The latter was expressed by an elevated mastitis risk variable. Data were obtained from the dairy herd of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Oslo, Norway). In total, 173 cows were sampled monthly for bacteriological milk culture during a 17-mo study period and 5,330 quarter milk samples were cultured. Mastitis pathogens identified were assigned to 1 of 2 groups, Pat 1 or Pat 2. Pathogens from which a high cell count would be expected during a subclinical IMI episode were assigned to the Pat 1 group. Pathogens not in the Pat 1 group were assigned to the Pat 2 group. Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus dysgalactiae were the most common Pat 1 pathogens. Corynebacterium bovis, Staphylococcus chromogenes, and Staphylococcus haemolyticus were the most common Pat 2 pathogens. The OCC were successfully recorded from 82,182 of 96,542 milkings. The current study included 324 subclinical IMI episodes. None of the mastitis pathogens demonstrated a basic reproduction number (R0) >1. Patterns of OCC change related to an episode of Pat 1 subclinical IMI at specificity levels of 80, 90, and 95% at sensitivity levels of 69, 59, and 48% respectively, demonstrated an R0 >1. An existing infection was significant for transmission for several Pat 2 pathogens, but only for Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis among Pat 1 pathogens. Dynamic transmission models showed that patterns of OCC change related to an episode of Pat 1 subclinical IMI were significantly related to the same pattern occurring in susceptible cows at specificity levels of 80, 90, and 99% at sensitivity levels of 69, 48, and 8%, respectively. We conclude that changes in herd prevalence of subclinical IMI can be predicted using dynamic transmission models based on patterns of OCC change. Choice of specificity level depends on management goals and tolerance for false-positive alerts.