The present work investigated the prevalence, spatial distribution, and temporal distribution of tuberculosis (TB) in free-ranging Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) and cattle in Asturias (Atlantic Spain) during a 13-year follow-up. The study objective was to assess the role of badgers as a TB reservoir for cattle and other sympatric wild species in the region. Between 2008 and 2020, 673 badgers (98 trapped and 575 killed in road traffic accidents) in Asturias were necropsied, and their tissue samples were cultured for the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTC) isolation. Serum samples were tested in an in-house indirect P22 ELISA to detect antibodies against the MTC. In parallel, data on MTC isolation and single intradermal tuberculin test results were extracted for cattle that were tested and culled as part of the Spanish National Program for the Eradication of Bovine TB. A total of 27/639 badgers (4.23%) were positive for MTC based on bacterial isolation, while 160/673 badgers (23.77%) were found to be positive with the P22 ELISA. The rate of seropositivity was higher among adult badgers than subadults. Badger TB status was spatially and temporally associated with cattle TB status. Our results cannot determine the direction of possible interspecies transmission, but they are consistent with the idea that the two hosts may exert infection pressure on each other. This study highlights the importance of the wildlife monitoring of infection and disease during epidemiological interventions in order to optimize outcomes.
Keywords: Atlantic Spain; Meles meles; Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex; P22 ELISA; badger; cattle; isolation; serology; tuberculosis.