The variability and seasonality of the environmental reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis shed by wild European badgers
Nature Publishing Group
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The incidence of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis, has been increasing in UK cattle herds resulting in substantial economic losses. The European badger (Meles meles) is implicated as a wildlife reservoir of infection. One likely route of transmission to cattle is through exposure to infected badger urine and faeces. The relative importance of the environment in transmission remains unknown, in part due to the lack of information on the distribution and magnitude of environmental reservoirs. Here we identify potential infection hotspots in the badger population and quantify the heterogeneity in bacterial load; with infected badgers shedding between 1 × 10(3)- 4 × 10(5) M. bovis cells g(-1) of faeces, creating a substantial and seasonally variable environmental reservoir. Our findings highlight the potential importance of monitoring environmental reservoirs of M. bovis which may constitute a component of disease spread that is currently overlooked and yet may be responsible for a proportion of transmission amongst badgers and onwards to cattle.
We acknowledge funding from Defra, H.C.K. was in receipt of a BBSRC DTG studentship and E.M.W. and O.C. acknowledge support from BBSRC for collaboration with Eamonn Gormley, UCD. We are also grateful to the APHA field team at Woodchester Park for support during fieldwork, and to Defra who fund the long-term study
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Vol. 5, article number 12318
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