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Epidemiol Infect. 2011 Aug;139(8):1210-9. doi: 10.1017/S0950268810002311. Epub 2010 Oct 14.

Seasonal breeding drives the incidence of a chronic bacterial infection in a free-living herbivore population.

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Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Understanding seasonal changes in age-related incidence of infections can be revealing for disentangling how host heterogeneities affect transmission and how to control the spread of infections between social groups. Seasonal forcing has been well documented in human childhood diseases but the mechanisms responsible for age-related transmission in free-living and socially structured animal populations are still poorly known. Here we studied the seasonal dynamics of Bordetella bronchiseptica in a free-living rabbit population over 5 years and discuss the possible mechanisms of infection. This bacterium has been isolated in livestock and wildlife where it causes respiratory infections that rapidly spread between individuals and persist as subclinical infections. Sera were collected from rabbits sampled monthly and examined using an ELISA. Findings revealed that B. bronchiseptica circulates in the rabbit population with annual prevalence ranging between 88% and 97%. Both seroprevalence and antibody optical density index exhibited 1-year cycles, indicating that disease outbreaks were seasonal and suggesting that long-lasting antibody protection was transient. Intra-annual dynamics showed a strong seasonal signature associated with the recruitment of naive offspring during the breeding period. Infection appeared to be mainly driven by mother-to-litter contacts rather than by interactions with other members of the community. By age 2 months, 65% of the kittens were seropositive.

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