Is Mycobacterium bovis in the environment important for the persistence of bovine tuberculosis?
Courtenay O., Reilly LA., Sweeney FP., Hibberd V., Bryan S., Ul-Hassan A., Newman C., Macdonald DW., Delahay RJ., Wilson GJ., Wellington EMH.
Mycobacterium bovis is the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle and wildlife. Direct aerosol contact is thought to be the primary route of infection between conspecifics, whereas indirect transmission via an environmental reservoir of M. bovis is generally perceived not to be a significant source for infection. Here, we report on the application of molecular technology (PCR) to quantify the prevalence of M. bovis in the environment and to explore its epidemiological significance. We show that the detectability of viable M. bovis at badger setts and latrines is strongly linked to the frequency of M. bovis excretion by infected badgers, and that putative M. bovis in the environment is prevalent on a large proportion of endemic cattle farms in Britain. These results raise important questions about the role of an environmental reservoir in bTB persistence.