Bovine TB transfer down to indirect contact, finds research

Cattle and badgers with TB rarely meet, new research has claimed.

Research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has suggested that direct contact between cattle and badgers is rare. Therefore, disease transmission is more likely to come from "indirectly sharing" space, such as fields, the study suggests.

Direct and indirect interactions between badgers and cattle were monitored by researchers, who fitted automated high-tech proximity loggers on the animals. Base stations were placed near badger latrines on pastures in a south-west England location.

As a result, researchers said: "Direct interactions (within 1.4 metres) between badgers and cows at pasture were very rare, with only four out of over 500,000 animal-to-animal contacts recorded between the two species."

While indirect reactions (visits to badger latrines) were far more frequent than direct contacts, "with 400 visits by badgers and 1,700 visits by cattle recorded", they said, adding: "This suggests that indirect contacts might be more important than direct in terms of disease transmission at pasture."

During the study, half of the badgers tested positive for TB, however, the infectious status of individual badgers did not affect the frequency or duration of their visits to latrines located on pasture grazed by cattle, researchers explained.

Study leader Dr Julian Drewe from the RVC said: "Our findings reveal that direct contacts between badgers and cattle at pasture are surprisingly rare, despite ample opportunity for interactions to occur, suggesting that the two species may be ignoring or even actively avoiding one another.

She reiterated that indirect visits to badger latrines were more common, which suggested they represented a more typical nature of interspecies contact. She added: "This clearly has disease management implications, and more work is now needed in this area to look at how such contact can be limited, to reduce the number of cases of bovine TB in the future."

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