Association between the presence of antibodies to Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis and somatic cell count

F. M. Baptista, S. S. Nielsen, Nils Toft

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Somatic cell counts (SCC) in bulk tank milk delivered for human consumption are one of the indicators of milk quality and are used for milk pricing. Consequently, milk from cows with high SCC is frequently used by farmers for feeding of calves to lower the SCC in bulk tank milk. Young calves are more susceptible to Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis (MAP) and may acquire the infection early in life through ingestion of MAP-contaminated milk. The occurrence of MAP antibodies can be an indicator of MAP shedding. Because MAP can be shed in milk from infected cows, and antibodies to MAP can be an indicator of the infectious status, an association between antibodies to MAP and high SCC can result in high-SCC milk being at risk of containing MAP. Feeding milk containing high SCC to susceptible calves may result in MAP infections. Somatic cell counts and MAP antibodies in milk were measured repeatedly in 7,251 cows from 26 Danish dairy herds to investigate the association between the occurrence of MAP antibodies and high SCC. The results of robust regression showed a log-linear relationship between the age at first positive ELISA and the age at first high SCC sample (R2 = 0.51). Of the 1,733 cows positive for MAP antibodies and with high SCC, high SCC was detected prior to MAP antibodies in 46% of the cows. Still, in 40% of the cows, MAP antibodies were detected before a high SCC. Therefore, the findings do not point to a causal relationship between high SCC and antibodies to MAP, but suggest a strong association and highlight a potentially increased risk of MAP transmission when milk with high SCC is fed to calves.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)109-118
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • paratuberculosis
  • robust regression
  • somatic cell count

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