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N Z Vet J. 2003 Apr;51(2):73-80.

The re-emergence of Mycobacterium bovis infection in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) after localised possum eradication.

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Epicentre, Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North, New Zealand.



To examine the spatial and temporal pattern of Mycobacterium bovis (bovine tuberculosis) infection in a population of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) after localised possum eradication.


Possums on a 36 ha site were eradicated and re-population from the surrounding area studied using population surveys conducted approximately every 2 months for 40 months from the cessation of eradication activity (month zero), using a capture-release programme. At each trapping session, all possums were examined for clinical signs of tuberculosis. The diagnosis of tuberculosis was confirmed by the isolation of M. bovis, and restriction endonuclease analysis (REA) was used to type the isolates. Infected possums were categorised as residents (present on the site for at least 6 months before diagnosis), range expanders (adult possums which had extended their nearby home ranges to become trappable within the study site), or juvenile immigrants (sub-adult possums which had dispersed into the site from an unknown distance away). This classification was used to identify the location where possums became infected. Capture locations and denning site locations were used to examine the spatial pattern of disease occurrence.


Thirty cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed among the 370 possums identified on the study site. Four different REA types (Types 2, 3, 8 and 10) were identified. The first two cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed in Month 4, in mature male possums categorised as range expanders, the third case was diagnosed in Month 6 and the fourth case at Month 9. Each of the first four cases was infected with a different REA type. The subsequent temporal pattern of infection was consistent with transmission from range expander cases and dispersing juvenile immigrants to resident possums. Clinical incidence remained low but persistent until the third year, when the incidence of Types 2, 8 and 10 escalated. Type 3 infections showed an earlier incidence peak, but disappeared from the site when the last known case died at Month 20. Of the dispersing juvenile possums entering the site, four became clinically tuberculous and represented a source of re-infection of other possums.


Re-emergence of tuberculosis after localised possum eradication was due to the continuing reintroduction of infection in mature and immature diseased possums, and not the survival of M. bovis in the environment.

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