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Abstract

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a costly, epidemiologically complex, multi-host, endemic disease. Lack of understanding of transmission dynamics may undermine eradication efforts. Pathogen whole-genome sequencing improves epidemiological inferences, providing a means to determine the relative importance of inter- and intra-species host transmission for disease persistence. We sequenced an exceptional data set of 619 isolates from badgers and cattle in a 100 km bTB ‘hotspot’ in Northern Ireland. Historical molecular subtyping data permitted the targeting of an endemic pathogen lineage, whose long-term persistence provided a unique opportunity to study disease transmission dynamics in unparalleled detail. Additionally, to assess whether badger population genetic structure was associated with the spatial distribution of pathogen genetic diversity, we microsatellite genotyped hair samples from 769 badgers trapped in this area. Birth death models and TransPhylo analyses indicated that cattle were likely driving the local epidemic, with transmission from cattle to badgers being more common than badger to cattle. Furthermore, the presence of significant badger population genetic structure in the landscape was not associated with the spatial distribution of genetic diversity, suggesting that badger-to-badger transmission is not playing a major role in transmission dynamics. Our data were consistent with badgers playing a smaller role in transmission of infection in this study site, compared to cattle. We hypothesize, however, that this minor role may still be important for persistence. Comparison to other areas suggests that transmission dynamics are likely to be context dependent, with the role of wildlife being difficult to generalize.

Funding
This study was supported by the:
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Award BB/P0105598 & BB/M01262X)
    • Principle Award Recipient: RowlandR. Kao
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, UK Government (Award 15/3/07)
    • Principle Award Recipient: AdrianR. Allen
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
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2023-05-25
2024-05-29
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