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Vet Res. 2008 May-Jun;39(3):31. doi: 10.1051/vetres:2008007. Epub 2008 Feb 15.

Influence of contact heterogeneity on TB reproduction ratio R0 in a free-living brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula population.

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EpiCentre, Institute of Veterinary, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.


Social network analyses were used to investigate contact patterns in a free-living possum Trichosurus vulpecula population and to estimate the influence of contact on R(0) for bovine tuberculosis (TB). Using data collected during a five-year capture-mark-recapture study of a free-living possum population, observed estimates of R(0) were computed and compared with R(0) computed from random networks of similar size that approximated a random mixing process. All networks displayed a heterogeneous pattern of contact with the average number of contacts per possum ranging from 20 to 26 per year. The networks consistently showed small-world and single-scale features. The mean estimates of R(0) for TB using the observed contact networks were 1.78, 1.53, 1.53, 1.51, and 1.52 times greater than the corresponding random networks (P <0.05). We estimate that TB would spread if an average of between 1.94 and 1.97 infective contacts occurred per year per infected possum, which is approximately half of that expected from a random network. These results have implications for the management of TB in New Zealand where the possum is the principal wildlife reservoir host of Mycobacterium bovis, the causal agent of bovine TB. This study argues the relevance of refining epidemiological models used to inform disease management policy to account for contact heterogeneity.

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