Bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) in British farmland wildlife: The importance to agriculture

Fiona Mathews*, David W. Macdonald, G. Michael Taylor, Merryl Gelling, Rachel A. Norman, Paul E. Honess, Rebecca Foster, Charlotte M. Gower, Susan Varley, Audrey Harris, Simonette Palmer, Glyn Hewinson, Joanne P. Webster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (SciVal)


Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is an important disease of cattle and an emerging infectious disease of humans. Cow- and badger-based control strategies have failed to eradicate bTB from the British cattle herd, and the incidence is rising by about 18% per year. The annual cost to taxpayers in Britain is currently £74 million. Research has focused on the badger as a potential bTB reservoir, with little attention being paid to other mammals common on farmland. We have conducted a systematic survey of wild mammals (n=4393 individuals) present on dairy farms to explore the role of species other than badgers in the epidemiology of bTB. Cultures were prepared from 10 397 samples (primarily faeces, urine and tracheal aspirates). One of the 1307 bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) live-sampled, and three of the 43 badgers (Meles meles), yielded positive isolates of Mycobacterium bovis. This is the first time the bacterium has been isolated from the bank vole. The strain type was the same as that found in cattle and badgers on the same farm. However, our work indicates that the mean prevalence of infectious individuals among common farmland wildlife is extremely low (the upper 95% confidence interval is ≤2.0 for all of the abundant species). Mathematical models illustrate that it is highly unlikely the disease could be maintained at such low levels. Our results suggest that these animals are relatively unimportant as reservoirs of bTB, having insufficient within-species (or within-group) transmission to sustain the infection, though occasional spill-overs from cattle or badgers may occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-365
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1584
Early online date08 Nov 2005
Publication statusPublished - 07 Feb 2006


  • Bovine tuberculosis
  • Epidemiology
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Mycobacterium microti
  • PCR
  • Voles


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