Mycoplasma bovis is a primary cause of respiratory and reproductive diseases in North American bison (Bison bison), with significant morbidity and mortality. The epidemiology of M. bovis in bison is poorly understood, hindering efforts to develop effective control measures. Our study considered whether healthy bison might be carriers of M. bovis, potentially serving as unrecognized sources of exposure. We used culture and PCR to identify mycoplasmas in the nasal cavity or tonsil of 499 healthy bison from 13 herds and two abattoirs in the US and Canada. Mycobacterium bovis was detected in 15 bison (3.0%) representing two herds in the US and one in Canada, while M. bovirhinis, M. bovoculi, M. arginine, or M. dispar was identified from an additional 155 bison (31.1%). Mycoplasma bovirhinis was identified most frequently, in 142 bison (28.5%) representing at least 10 herds. Of the 381 bison for which serum was available, only 6/13 positive for M. bovis (46.2%) tested positively with an M. bovis ELISA, as did 19/368 negative for M. bovis (5.2%). Our data reveal that M. bovis can be carried in the upper respiratory tract of healthy bison with no prior history or clinical signs of mycoplasmosis and that a large proportion of carriers may not produce detectable antibodies. Whether carriage of other mycoplasmas can trigger cross-reactive antibodies that may confound M. bovis serology requires further study.

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