Risk of Transmission of Bovine Herpesvirus-1 (BHV-1) by Infected Semen to Embryo Recipients and Offspring



Infection with bovine herpesvirus-1 (BHV-1), also called infectious bovine rhinotracheitis/infectious pustular vulvovaginitis virus, is associated with a variety of respiratory, neurological and infertility health problems causing worldwide economic losses and trading restrictions to the livestock industry. Although there is a considerable amount of information about the risk of BHV-1 transmission through contaminated semen used for artificial insemination, there is no available evidence to indicate whether the resulting embryos, when used for embryo transfer (ET), can lead to the transmission of BHV-1 to recipients and offspring. For this study, cryopreserved bull semen contaminated with BHV-1 was used for artificial insemination (AI) of seronegative, superovulated heifers (N = 43). Embryos were collected post-mortem at 7 days post-insemination and were washed according to the International Embryo Transfer Society (IETS) guidelines. BHV-1 was detected in all samples of follicular fluid, oviductal epithelial cells, endometrium and corpora lutea tissues and a proportion of unwashed (52 of 120, 43%) and washed oocytes and embryos (7 of 113, 6%) collected from embryo donors. Of the 396 collected, unfertilized oocytes and embryos, only 29 (7%) were of ET quality. Most of the embryos and oocytes were degenerated (N = 224, 57%) or unfertilized (N = 143, 36%). The 13 heifers, which each received a single morula-stage washed embryo, maintained seronegative status, but only two (15%) became pregnant and delivered BHV-1-free calves. In conclusion, results suggest that embryos fertilized with BHV-1-contaminated semen may not result in disease transmission to embryo recipients or their offspring when embryos are processed according to IETS and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. However, due to the transmission of BHV-1 via AI to embryo donors and the apparent adverse effect of BHV-1 on the quality of the embryos, it is unlikely that the procedure can be justified for a commercial application.