Patterns of direct and indirect contact between cattle and badgers naturally infected with tuberculosis.
Drewe JA., O'Connor HM., Weber N., McDonald RA., Delahay RJ.
Tuberculosis (TB) due to infection with Mycobacterium bovis is transmitted between cattle and badgers (Meles meles) in the UK and Ireland but it is unclear where or when transmission occurs. We investigated direct and indirect interactions between badgers and cattle using automated proximity loggers on animals and at badger latrines located on pasture, in an area of south-west England with a high-density badger population. Direct contacts (interactions within 1.4 m) between badgers and cattle at pasture were very rare (four out of >500000 recorded animal-to-animal contacts) despite ample opportunity for interactions to occur. Indirect interactions (visits to badger latrines by badgers and cattle) were two orders of magnitude more frequent than direct contacts: 400 visits by badgers and 1700 visits by cattle were recorded. This suggests that indirect contacts might be more important than direct contacts in terms of disease transmission at pasture. The TB infection status of individual badgers (ascribed with 93% accuracy using three diagnostic tests) did not affect the frequency or duration of their visits to latrines located on pasture grazed by cattle. Nevertheless, there was wide variation in contact behaviour between individuals, which highlights the importance of understanding heterogeneity in contact patterns when developing strategies to control disease spread in wildlife and livestock.