Research from RVC and Food and Environment Research Agency suggests indirect contact is more likely to be how bovine tuberculosis is passed between two species.

New research from the RVC and Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has claimed direct contact between badgers and cattle is rare, suggesting it is unlikely bovine TB (bTB) is passed on through the two species meeting each other on pasture.

Investigation took place in an area of the south-west of England with a In the research – published in Epidemiology and Infection – direct and indirect interactions between the animals were investigated using logging technology. The investigation was carried out in an area in south-west England, where a “high density” badger population was prevalent, and took 12 months to complete.

The research found that “direct” interactions – defined as within 1.4 metres – were “very rare“, with only four out of more than 500,000 animal-to-animal contacts recorded between the two species. Meanwhile, “indirect” interactions – defined as visits to badger latrines – were “far more frequent“, with 400 visits by badgers and 1,700 visits by cattle recorded over the period.

During the study, half of the badgers tested positive for bTB. However, researchers insist the infection status of the badgers did not affect the frequency or duration of their visits to latrines located on pasture grazed by cattle.

Julian Drewe, lecturer in veterinary epidemiology at the RVC, who led the study, said the research’s findings suggest the two species “may be ignoring or even actively avoiding one another” and that as the study was conducted in an area with a high badger population, it is likely such direct contact will be “even less frequent” in areas of the UK where there are fewer badgers.
“Indirect visits by both species to badger latrines were significantly more common than direct contacts between badgers and cattle,” said Dr Drewe. “This suggests these represent the more typical nature of interspecies contact.

“Future research aiming to quantify TB risk to cattle from badgers might be best to focus on indirect contacts occurring at latrines and on contacts occurring away from pasture, for example in farm buildings.”

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