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Infect Genet Evol. 2013 Oct;19:15-22. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2013.05.011. Epub 2013 May 25.

Detectability of bovine TB using the tuberculin skin test does not vary significantly according to pathogen genotype within Northern Ireland.

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School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK. Electronic address:


Strains of many infectious diseases differ in parameters that influence epidemic spread, for example virulence, transmissibility, detectability and host specificity. Knowledge of inter-strain variation can be exploited to improve management and decrease disease incidence. Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is increasingly prevalent among farmed cattle in the UK, exerting a heavy economic burden on the farming industry and government. We aimed to determine whether strains of Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of bTB) identified and classified using genetic markers (spoligotyping and multi-locus VNTR analysis) varied in response to the tuberculin skin test; this being the primary method of bTB detection used in the UK. Inter-strain variation in detectability of M. bovis could have important implications for disease control. The skin test is based on a differential delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) response to intradermal injections of purified protein derivative (PPD) from M. bovis (PPD-B) and Mycobacterium avium (PPD-A). We searched for an association between skin test response (PPD-B skin rise minus PPD-A skin rise) and M. bovis genotype at the disclosing test in culture-confirmed cases using a field dataset consisting of 21,000 isolates belonging to 63 genotypes of M. bovis from cattle in Northern Ireland. We found no substantial variation among genotypes (estimated responses clustered tightly around the mean) controlling for animal sex, breed and test effects. We also estimated the ratio of skin test detected to undetected cases (i.e. cases only detected at abattoir). The skin test detection ratio varied among abattoirs with some detecting a greater proportion of cases than others but this variation was unrelated to the community composition of genotypes within each abattoir catchment. These two lines of evidence indicate that M. bovis genotypes in Northern Ireland have similar detectability using the skin test.


Bovine tuberculosis; Cattle; Detectability; Mycobacterium bovis; Tuberculin test

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