In Ireland, the herd prevalence of bovine tuberculosis has remained stable for several decades, and in common with several other countries, progress towards eradication has stalled. There is evidence in support of the potential role of infected badgers (Meles meles, a protected species) in bovine tuberculosis in Ireland and Britain. However, this evidence on its own has not been sufficient to prove disease causation. Field trials are likely to offer the best opportunity to define this role. Building on the earlier East Offaly project, our objectives were to assess the impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland. The study was conducted from September 1997 to August 2002 in matched removal and reference areas (average area of 245.1km(2)) in four counties: Cork, Donegal, Kilkenny and Monaghan. Badger removal was intensive and proactive throughout the study period in the removal areas, but reactive (in response to severe tuberculosis outbreaks in cattle) in the reference areas. Removal intensity in the removal and reference areas during the first 2 years of the study averaged 0.57 and 0.07 badgers/km(2)/year, respectively. The outcome of interest was restriction of cattle herds due to confirmed tuberculosis, where tuberculous lesions were detected in one or more animals. Data were analysed using logistic regression (modelling the probability of a confirmed herd restriction) and survival analysis (modelling time to a confirmed herd restriction). During the study period, there was a significant difference between the removal and reference areas in all four counties in both the probability of and the time to a confirmed herd restriction due to tuberculosis. In the final year of the study, the odds of a confirmed herd restriction in the removal (as compared to the reference areas) were 0.25 in Cork, 0.04 in Donegal, 0.26 in Kilkenny and 0.43 in Monaghan. Further, the hazard ratios (removal over reference) ranged from 0.4 to 0.04 (a 60-96% decrease in the rate at which herds were becoming the subject of a confirmed restriction).
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