Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) are an important wildlife reservoir of tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) infection in Ireland and the United Kingdom. As part of national programmes to control tuberculosis in livestock, considerable effort has been devoted to studying the disease in badgers and this has lead to a rapid increase in our knowledge of tuberculosis in this host. Tuberculosis in badgers is a chronic infection and in a naturally-infected population the severity of disease can vary widely, from latent infection (infection without clinical signs and no visible lesions) to severe disease with generalized pathology. The high prevalence of pulmonary infection strongly supports the lungs as the principal site of primary infection and that inhalation of infectious aerosol particles is the principal mode of transmission. However, other routes, including transmission via infected bite wounds, are known to occur. The ante-mortem diagnosis of infection is difficult to achieve, as clinical examination and immunological and bacteriological examination of clinical samples are insensitive diagnostic procedures. Because infection in the majority of badgers is latent, the gross post-mortem diagnosis is also insensitive. A definitive diagnosis can only be made by the isolation of M. bovis. However, to gain a high level of sensitivity in the bacteriological examination, a large number of tissues from each badger must be cultured and sensitive culture methods employed. The transmission and maintenance of M. bovis in badger populations are complex processes where many factors influence within-population prevalence and rates of transmission. Badger social structures and the longevity of infected animals make them an ideal maintenance host for M. bovis infection. Badgers are directly implicated in the transmission of infection to cattle and the inability to eradicate the disease from cattle is, in part, a consequence of the interactions between the two species. A detailed understanding and knowledge of the epidemiology and pathogenesis of the disease are recognized as fundamental for devising new strategies to control infection with a view to limiting interspecies transmission. Vaccination, in spite of formidable challenges, is seen as the best long-term strategy option and studies with captive badgers have shown that vaccination with M. bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) induces protection when delivered by a variety of routes. Continued research is required to develop effective technologies to control the disease both in badgers and cattle. A combination of strategies, which employ the optimal use and targeting of resources, is likely to make a significant contribution towards eradication of the disease.
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