Badgers are a wildlife host of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), and an important contributor to the epidemiology of bTB in cattle in Ireland and Britain. Repeated culling of badgers in high prevalence cattle bTB areas has been used in the Republic of Ireland as one tool to reduce intra- and interspecific transmission of M. bovis. We assessed factors that influenced infection prevalence of culled badgers from 2009 to 2012 (n=4948) where spatial, temporal and intrinsic factor data were available using multivariable modelling. Prevalence appeared higher in western areas than eastern areas of Ireland and badgers were more likely to be test-positive if caught at a sett (burrow system) which was close to other infected setts (spatial clustering of infection). There was a significant positive association between badger test-status and cattle prevalence of M. bovis infection at a spatial scale of 1km around setts. Badgers were more likely to be deemed test positive if they were male (OR: 1.9) or a parous female (OR: 1.7), compared to a female who had never conceived. Our results are consistent with different groups within badger populations having differential exposures and therefore infection risk (for example, parous vs. non-parous females). Furthermore, bTB clusters within the badger population, with greater risk to badgers in setts that are closest to other infected setts. The effective scale of the association of bTB risk between badger and cattle populations may be relatively large in Ireland. Our data indicate that the overall trend in prevalence of M. bovis infection in badgers has decreased in Ireland (P<0.001) while controlling for significant confounders over the study period, and follows a longer temporal trend from 2007 to 2013, where unadjusted apparent prevalence declined from 26% to 11% during 2007 to mid-2011, followed by a stable trend between 9 and 11% thereafter (n=10,267).
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