NOTE: Johne's Disease may be viewed as individual chapter files below, or as one complete publication file at johnes2.htm

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Johne's Disease--Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis: A Debilitating Enteric Disease of Ruminants

June 2002 (Revised November 2008)


Compiled by:

Jean Larson
Animal Welfare Information Center
National Agricultural Library
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Published by:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
National Agricultural Library
Animal Welfare Information Center
Beltsville, MD 20705
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There are many loses in the livestock industry as a result of the bacterial disease called Johne's disease. "The disease occurs across the US and many foreign countries and is one of the most economically important disease of cattle." 3.   The effects of this contagious disease lead to reduced milk, fetal loss and early death. This disease is caused by a bacterium Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis. This family of bacteria causes a variety of disease scourges such as tuberculosis, leporsy, cervical lymphadenitis, Aswimming pool granuloma, chronic pulmonary diseases and Johne's disease. Johne's disease is known to affect cattle, sheep, llamas, camels, goats, farmed deer, bison, and other domestic and wild ruminants. It may be the cause of some wasting diseases in horses and swine. Also, chickens can be successfully infected with it. The disease can also be transmitted to laboratory animals in a laboratory setting.   It may also be an agent of the Crohn=s disease in humans. There is conflicting information about the zoonotic risks of the disease, but interaction with diseased animals should be done with caution. Johne's is found world-wide.

The disease. Although the infection is usually acquired early in life, the clinical signs can take 2-6 years to develop. Clinical signs in cattle include severe wasting due to prolonged diarrhea, dehydration, and emaciation with lethal consequences. (In other susceptible animals the clinical signs are somewhat different.) In cattle the intestinal wall becomes thickened and has transverse folds called rugae. The surface looks corrugated. Lymph nodes are also affected and at times there are lesions in the liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys. Infections in the uterus and placenta can lead to congenital infection and abortion. Most cattle are infected when young through contaminated feed, colostrum, milk, contaminated bedding and water. The organism is often shed in large number in the feces and for long periods of time. It can live for long periods in fecal material and depending on the environmental and soil conditions, has been known to survive up to 1 year.

Diagnosis. Diagnosis of the disease in live individual animals is difficult for a number of reasons. To date, "there is no single, good test for paratuberculosis and a combination of tests is often used." 1. It seems that it is easier to diagnosis the presence in a herd as apposed to individual animals. Most of the time, the definitive diagnosis is done after an animal has died. Note that in the bibliography, there is research going on to attempt to develop better diagnostic methods for this difficult disease.

Control measures. There is no satisfactory treatment for the disease. The trend toward intensive livestock production practices has made control more difficult. Disease control is via implementing a variety of production practices. Some of the production practices include culling of affected animals, and removal of calves from dams immediately following birth. The separated calves are then fed pasturized colostrum that is free of fecal contamination and raising them in a facility that is separate from adult cows. Fecal culturing of all cows in a herd can catch those affected early on. Manure removal and facility cleaning can help control the disease. Since a basic soil discourages bacterial survival in soil, liming of pastures is helpful.

Vaccines used in calfhood can be effective in reducing the incidence, but they do not totally eliminate disease. A more effective vaccine is also being researched at this time, but vaccination does not eliminate the need for good production practices.

Historic References

Larsen, Aubrey B.; Johnson, Howard W. Paratuberculosis (Johne's Disease).Yearbook of Agriculture. 1956; 221-223. ISSN: 0084-3628
URL: Available in the NAL Digital Repository
NAL Call No: 1 Ag84y

Simms, B.T.; Mohler, William M.; Johnson, H.W. Johne's Disease.Yearbook of Agriculture. 1942; 512-517. ISSN: 0084-3628
URL: Available in the NAL Digital Repository
NAL Call No: 1 Ag84y

Ernest, L.B. Cattle Malady Called Johne's Disease to Be Fought Cooperatively. Yearbook-of-agriculture. 1928 (pub 1929); 183. ISSN: 0084-3628
URL: (PDF | 97.1 KB)
NAL Call No.: 1 Ag84y

Resources used above:

1. Aiello, Susan E. and Asa Mays (eds.) The Merck Veterinary Manual, 8th edition. Whitehouse Station, N. J. The Merck & Co, Inc. 1998, p.537-539.

2. Jones, Thomas Carlyle and Ronald Duncan Hunt. Veterinary Pathology, 5th edition. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger. 1983. p 648-664.

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1984 Yearbook of Agriculture. Animal Health. Washington, D.C.. The Department. 1984 p. 158-160.

Additional information: Genome Sequencing Completed for Major Dairy Cattle Microbe Manual of Standards Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines. Part 2, Section 2.2, Chapter 2.2.6. Paratuberculosis (Johne's Disease)



Notes about this Document

This document was compiled from various databases. The information is organized alphabetically by author and by publication year. Where there were abstracts in the database, they have been included in this document. The National Agricultural Library call numbers are included.

If the reader is interested in obtaining copies of the articles, you may request them on inter-library loan through your local library. Complete document delivery information is available at If you have comments or would like to submit additional information for inclusion in this document, please contact the compiler at

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May 24, 2012