Treatment and Prevention

There is no treatment known to be completely effective against IBR. Any method used is most likely to be effective if the disease is caught as early as possible (3). Currently accepted practice is to separate the animal from the herd and treat with antibiotics to avoid a secondary bacterial infection.  (3,4) With IBR the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really does ring true.

There are two main categories of vaccines, modified live/inactivated and killed. These two designations just refer to the state of the virus within the vaccine. There are numerous advantages and disadvantages with the two types:

Killed/Inactivated:  This type of vaccine is considered safe to give to pregnant animals, while there are concerns with using modified live vaccines on pregnant animals as it has been linked to abortions. (5) One disadvantage with this type of vaccine is that for the best protection it requires two doses a certain period apart before the cow is bred. For many producers this is hard to achieve since their calving season is spread out.

Modified Live: This type of vaccine induces good protection after only a single dose (6) however as mentioned above it should not be given to pregnant animals intramuscular. Because it requires only a single dose then a yearly booster and provides good immunity it is more commonly used than the killed vaccine. (3,7)


There are also two ways to administer the vaccine:

 Intranasal: This method is advantageous when vaccinating young calves. When calves ingest colostrum they get protection from those pathogens its mother is protected from by way of antibodies. These antibodies decay however within a few weeks of birth and then the calf’s immune system must take over making its own antibodies. While the maternal antibodies are still active in the calf they can decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine. Since we don’t know when exactly the calf’s own antibodies have taken over this can make the timing of vaccination difficult. Intranasal vaccination is a way of getting around this problem, maternal antibodies do not interfere when the calf is vaccinated intranasally. This means calves can be vaccinated younger with this method than with intramuscular (IM)  injection and can avoid disease during the period between the decay of the maternal antibodies and the formation of their own. The second advantage is that intranasal vaccines lead to decreased infection not just decreased shedding of the virus. (8) While IM administration of modified live vaccine has been linked to causing abortions if given to pregnant animals the vaccine has not been linked to abortions if given intranasally. (3)

Intramuscular: This route is also considered effective for creating immunity and is often considered easier to do by producers. As with other injections it is important to give the injection in the appropriate place in the neck muscle so if there is damage to the tissue it is not within the expensive cuts of meat.

Typically vaccines for IBR are sold in combination with other common bovine disease such as BVD, the combination will vary by the brand of vaccine. They also come in different combinations of the above categories .The brand carried by your veterinarian will depend on their preference and the current products available (the vaccines available are continually changing). Many of the ones available provide reasonable protection from IBR by reducing shedding of the virus and decreasing clinical disease (9). It is important that you ask your veterinarian questions regarding the safety and efficacy of the product and we hope that this webpage has provided you with the information necessary to ask those questions as well as understand the answers.

 It is also very important to discuss with your veterinarian when to vaccinate your animals and what animals to vaccinate in order to have IBR immunity throughout your herd. Yearly boosters should be given to cows and bulls and replacement heifers should be vaccinated before they are bred. As well calves should be vaccinated when they are processed (provided at this time maternal immunity is not interfering, this depends on the vaccine method chosen). (3) If you are a feedlot owner you will want to evaluate whether it makes sense economically to vaccinate and when the calves in your feedlot tend to be affected. If the immunity provided by the vaccine does not develop until after the calves are sick then there was no benefit to vaccinating. (7) Lastly it is important to remember that no vaccine is a complete substitute for good management. Nutrition, housing, parasite control and genetics all factor into the health of your herd as well. The healthier and less stressed your cattle are the less susceptible they are to disease.

                                                                                                                                    cows and egrets

Below are a few links to commonly used IBR vaccines you may want to browse to test what you have learned. Keep in mind these websites are designed by the company to promote their own vaccines. Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your vaccine protocol.

Pyramid Vaccines by Boehringer Ingelheim

Express Vaccines by Boehringer Ingelheim

Vista Vaccines by Merck

Bovi Shield Gold by Zoetis