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Vet Microbiol. 2011 Jul 5;151(1-2):120-5. doi: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2011.02.034. Epub 2011 Mar 8.

Tuberculosis in cattle herds are sentinels for Mycobacterium bovis infection in European badgers (Meles meles): the Irish Greenfield Study.

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Veterinary Science Centre, School of Agriculture, Food Science & Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.


In Ireland badgers are removed in response to tuberculosis (TB) breakdowns in cattle herds (focal culling). Prevalence studies, conducted using a detailed post mortem and bacteriological examination, showed that 36-50% of badgers were infected with Mycobacterium bovis. Focal culling forms part of the medium term national strategy for the control of bovine TB in cattle and is based on the premise that badgers in areas with herd breakdowns have a higher prevalence of infection than the badger population at large. However, the hypothesis that cattle can be used as sentinels for infection in the badger population has never been formally tested. In this study we tested the hypothesis by determining the infection prevalence in badgers in areas where there had been historically, a consistently low prevalence of infection in cattle. Low cattle TB prevalence areas were defined as those herds with ≤ 2 standard reactors in the annual round of skin testing over the preceding 5 years (Greenfield sites). Using GIS, and adjusting for variation in land use, previous culling and cattle density, 198 Greenfield sites were identified and surveyed, and 138 areas with badger setts or signs of badger activity were identified. A single badger was removed from 87 sites and all were examined using detailed post mortem and bacteriological procedures. A prevalence of M. bovis infection of 14.9% was found in the Greenfield site badgers. This prevalence was significantly lower (P<0.001) than in badgers removed during focal culling (36.6%). The results validate the use of cattle as sentinels for TB in badgers and support the medium term national strategy for the control of bovine TB. The geographic variation in M. bovis infection prevalence in the Irish badger populations will be used when devising strategies for the incorporation of badger vaccination into the long term bovine TB control programme.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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