Counterintuitive increase in observed Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis prevalence in sympatric rabbits following the introduction of paratuberculosis control measures in cattle
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Paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease) is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map). Achieving herd-level control of mycobacterial infection is notoriously difficult, despite widespread adoption of test-and-cull-based control strategies. The presence of infection in wildlife populations could be contributing to this difficulty. Rabbits are naturally infected with the same Map strain as cattle, and can excrete high levels in their faeces. The aim of this study is to determine if implementation of paratuberculosis control in cattle leads to a decline in Map infection levels in rabbits. An island-wide, test-and-cull-based paratuberculosis control programme was initiated on a Scottish island in 2008. In this study annual tests were obtained from 15 cattle farms, from 2008 to 2011, totalling 2609 tests. Rabbits (1564) were sampled from the 15 participating farms, from 2008 to 2011, and Map was detected by faecal culture. Map seroprevalence in cattle decreased from 16 to 7.2 per cent, while Map prevalence in rabbits increased from 10.3 to 20.3 per cent. Results indicate that efforts to control paratuberculosis in cattle do not reduce Map levels in sympatric rabbits. This adds to mounting evidence that if Map becomes established in wild rabbit populations, rabbits represent a persistent and widespread source of infection, potentially impeding livestock control strategies.
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