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Prev Vet Med. 2011 Oct 1;102(1):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2011.06.009. Epub 2011 Jul 19.

Environmental contamination with Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis in endemically infected dairy herds.

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Section of Epidemiology, Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, United States.


Environmental contamination with Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) is thought to be one of the primary sources of infection for dairy cattle. The exact link between fecal shedding of MAP by individual cows and environmental contamination levels at the herd level was explored with a cross-sectional analysis of longitudinally collected samples on 3 dairy farms. Composite samples from multiple environmental sites in 3 commercial dairy herds in the Northeast US were cultured quarterly for MAP, providing 1131 samples (133 (11.8%) were culture-positive), and all adult animals in the herds were tested biannually by fecal culture (FC), for 6 years. Of the environmental sites sampled, manure storage areas and shared alleyways were most likely to be culture-positive. Environmental sample results were compared to FC results from either the concurrent or previous sampling date at both the herd and the pen level. At the herd level, a 1 log unit increase in average fecal shedding increased the odds of a positive non-pen environmental sample by a factor of 6 and increased the average amount of MAP in non-pen samples by 2.9 cfu/g. At the pen level, a 1 log unit increase in average fecal shedding in the pen increased the odds of a positive environment by a factor of 2.4 and the average amount of MAP was increased by 3.5 cfu/g. We were not able to model the relationship between non-pen environmental sample status and the distance between shedding animals and the sample's location, and neighboring pens did not significantly affect the results of the pen-level analysis. The amount of MAP in pen-level samples and the probability of a pen testing positive for MAP were both positively but non-significantly correlated with the number of animals in the pen shedding >30 cfu/g of MAP. At least 6 environmental samples met the criteria for the U.S. Voluntary Bovine Johne's Disease Control Program on 47 of the 72 sampling dates; of these, 19 of the 47 FC-positive sampling dates were positive by the 6-sample environmental testing method, resulting in a herd sensitivity of 0.40 (95% CI: 0.26-0.54). None of the 3 FC-negative sampling dates produced positive environmental samples. Although environmental sampling can be used as a tool in understanding the level of MAP infection in a herd or pen, it did not appear to be a sensitive diagnostic method for herd positivity in these low prevalence herds, and its use may require caution.

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