The principal domestic maintenance host for Mycobacterium bovis is infected cattle. In countries where comprehensive surveillance schemes have been applied, tuberculosis rarely affects an animal to the extent that it presents with clinical disease. In the latter stages of an eradication campaign, the aim is to maintain the disease-free status of clear herds and eliminate foci of infection in herds as well as restricting movement of infected animals from these herds, other than to slaughter. However, the eradication of tuberculosis from cattle herds may be compromised if infected wildlife species, such as Eurasian badgers (Meles meles), share the same environment and contribute to transmission of infection. The options for dealing with tuberculosis in the wildlife reservoir hosts are limited to segregation of domestic animals from the wildlife, culling of the wildlife host or vaccination. Options are further limited by conservation and social reasons, particularly where culling is concerned. In Ireland and the UK, vaccination of badgers against M. bovis, if successfully employed, could directly facilitate the completion of bovine tuberculosis eradication. Programmes of research into vaccination of badgers are being undertaken in both countries, and there is clear evidence that vaccination induces protection. Vaccine trials in captive badgers have established that the M. bovis bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine can induce a protective response that limits the distribution and severity of tuberculosis disease following experimental challenge. In Ireland, a large-scale field trial of oral BCG vaccination is being conducted to measure the protection generated in wild badgers subjected to natural transmission of infection and to estimate vaccine efficacy. The results will provide a framework for the development and implementation of a national strategy to address the disease in badger populations and if successful will remove this major impediment to tuberculosis eradication from cattle.
University College Dublin ->