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N Z Vet J. 2001 Oct;49(5):195-200.

The relationship between prevalence of Mycobacterium bovis infection in feral ferrets and possum abundance.

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  • 1Landcare Research, Private Bag 11052, Palmerston North, New Zealand. CaleyP@landcare.cri.nz

Abstract

AIM:

To determine the relationship between the prevalence of macroscopic Mycobacterium bovis infection in feral ferrets (Mustela furo) and the abundance of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula).

METHODS:

The predictive power of a previously reported positive association between the prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection in ferrets and possum abundance was examined by undertaking surveys of M. bovis infection in ferrets at sites of low and high possum abundance. The association was then tested by a manipulative experiment that measured changes in the prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection in feral ferrets after reducing possum abundance.

RESULTS:

The positive relationship between the prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection in ferrets and possum abundance remained valid for new survey data, although the goodness of fit of the relationship was reduced. Experimentally reducing possum abundance reduced the odds of macroscopic M. bovis infection in ferrets by 80% in the years immediately following possum control (Odds Ratio=0.23, p=0.003).

CONCLUSIONS:

There is a causal link between possum abundance and the prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection in feral ferrets in areas in which M. bovis infection is known to occur in ferret populations. This suggests that possum-to-ferret transmission of disease occurs and accounts for most of the disease evident in ferret populations, though does not determine whether ferrets are spillover or maintenance hosts of M. bovis. Management to reduce the prevalence of M. bovis infection in ferrets should consider reducing possum abundance as a control tactic.

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