Calf gastrointestinal disease remains one of the main causes of productivity and economic losses on dairy operations. The majority of pre-weaned calf mortality is attributed to diarrhea or other digestive problems. Five enteric pathogens are commonly associated with diarrhea in dairy calves, including bovine rotavirus, bovine coronavirus, Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., and Cryptosporidium parvum. Pathogen-associated differences in health outcomes and case fatality rates have not been well-characterized. Additionally, updated prevalence estimates may reflect important changes in the epidemiology of the pathogens on dairy farms. For this cohort study, fecal samples were collected from 276 clinically ill calves across 5 central Ohio dairy farms on the first day of diarrheal diagnosis. Genomic techniques, including reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR) were used to test for the presence of the five enteric pathogens. A Poisson regression model was used to estimate the relative risk of mortality, and a survival analysis with a Cox regression model was used to analyze time to return to a healthy clinical status by pathogen. Rotavirus was the most frequently identified at 68.1 % (188/276), followed by F5 (K99)E. coli at 42.5 % (114/268), C. parvum at 28.4 % (66/232), coronavirus at 5.8 % (16/276), and Salmonella had the lowest prevalence at 3.7 % (10/268). Risk of mortality tended to be higher for calves infected with Salmonella (RR = 3.83; 95 %CI: 0.93, 16.02, p = 0.062); however, the time to return to a healthy clinical status was not different for different pathogens. Only farm was a significant predictor of time to return to health (p = 0.017); the within-farm median duration of signs substantially varied between 2 and 7 days. The results suggest that the prevalence and distribution of rotaviral infections is higher than reported in prior studies. With the exception of infections caused by Salmonella spp., pathogen diagnosis on the first day of diarrhea was a poor predictor of the outcome and duration of disease. These results are critical to guide the implementation of prevention measures to detect, treat, and prevent calf diarrhea.
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