Mycobacterium bovis Population Structure in Cattle and Local Badgers: Co-Localisation and Variation by Farm Type

Pathogens. 2020 Jul 21;9(7):592. doi: 10.3390/pathogens9070592.


Bovine tuberculosis surveillance in Northern Ireland includes Multiple-Locus Variable number tandem repeat Analysis (MLVA) to determine the Mycobacterium bovis genetic type present in both cattle and the predominant wildlife host, the European badger (Meles meles). These data are useful for investigating clusters of infection and understanding the scale at which interspecific transmission may occur. We utilised a comprehensive dataset of routinely sampled isolates from infected cattle and from badgers killed in road-traffic accidents to investigate the spatial co-location of MLVA types in, and between, the badger and cattle populations. Furthermore, we investigated the hypothesis that the type of farming enterprise might explain some variation in this relationship. MLVA types were spatially co-localised in cattle and road-traffic accident (RTA) badger hosts, indicative of a shared epidemic. Dairy herds were more likely to have at least one MLVA type in common with nearby RTA badgers, compared to non-dairy herd types. Marginally more MLVA spatial clustering was observed in non-dairy herds, which may be a consequence of relatively more between-herd movements. For the cattle population, local transmission mechanisms such as infection from contiguous herds, infectious wildlife and short-range between-herd cattle movements appear primarily to drive the epidemic: there appears to be a more limited role for long-range movements. Animal management practices are likely to be the driving force behind this observation, as beef rearing is associated with elevated numbers of animal movements compared to dairy herds.

Keywords: MLVA; Northern Ireland; badgers; bovine tuberculosis; molecular epidemiology; spatial.