Bovine tuberculosis in Europe from the perspective of an officially tuberculosis free country: Trade, surveillance and diagnostics

Irene Schiller*, W. RayWaters, H. Martin Vordermeier, Thomas Jemmi, Michael Welsh, Nicolas Keck, Adam Whelan, Eamonn Gormley, Maria Laura Boschiroli, Jean Louis Moyen, Carmen Vela, Monica Cagiola, Bryce M. Buddle, Mitchell Palmer, Tyler Thacker, Bruno Oesch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (SciVal)


Switzerland has been officially free of bovine tuberculosis (OTF) since 1960. Since 1980 the control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has been reduced to passive abattoir surveillance. Isolated cases of bTB, partly due to reactivation of human Mycobacterium bovis infections with subsequent transmission to cattle, have been noticed in the last years. In Europe, the overall prevalence of bTB is slightly increasing. Both OTF and non-OTF countries report increases in the proportion of bTB positive cattle herds.Current bTB eradication and control programs in Europe are facing a range of challenges. Whole herd depopulation is becoming a less attractive option for economic reasons and due to animal welfare concerns. Live animal trade is increasing both at national and international levels. Regarding these tendencies and taking into account the chronicity of bTB infection, pre-movement testing is becoming increasingly important as a central tool for eradication and for protection against re-introduction of bTB. Pre-movement testing, however specifically focuses on the infection status in individuals, requiring a high level of diagnostic accuracy to correctly diagnose infected animals. Current screening tests for bTB, however, have been designed to meet demands as herd tests. This illustrates that the modification of existing and/or the development of new diagnostics for bTB might be needed.The tuberculin skin test (TST), the primary screening test for bTB may in certain situations have low sensitivity. The interferon gamma (IFN-γ) assay is accepted to be more sensitive compared to TST. Reduced specificity, however, especially in areas of low bTB prevalence raises concerns. New antigen combinations including Rv3615c, OmpATb and others have been shown to complement ESAT-6 and CFP-10 in the whole blood IFN-γ assay and resulted in improved sensitivity (compared to ESAT-6 and CFP-10) and specificity (compared to tuberculins). Lesion detection after slaughter represents a cost-effective procedure for passive surveillance of bTB, especially in areas of low prevalence or in regions free of bTB; however, its sensitivity is very low. This illustrates that trade is linked with a certain risk to re-introduce bTB in OTF regions or countries and that there may be delays in detecting a re-introduction of bTB.In conclusion, regarding the fact that some parameters linked with bTB programs are changing, the development of improved diagnostic tests with a high reliability for use as individual animal tests will be important for future eradication of bTB, in line with international commitment to high standard animal health programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-159
Number of pages7
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number1-2
Early online date24 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - 05 Jul 2011


  • Bovine tuberculosis
  • Control and eradication
  • Interferon gamma assay
  • Slaughter surveillance
  • Tools
  • Tuberculin skin test


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