The contribution of badgers to confirmed tuberculosis in cattle in high-incidence areas in England.
Donnelly CA., Nouvellet P.
The role of badgers in the transmission and maintenance of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in British cattle is widely debated as part of the wider discussions on whether badger culling and/or badger vaccination should play a role in the government's strategy to eradicate cattle TB. The key source of information on the contribution from badgers within high-cattle-TB-incidence areas of England is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), with two analyses providing estimates of the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB in these areas. A dynamical model characterizing the association between the estimated prevalence of Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of bovine TB) among badgers culled in the initial RBCT proactive culls and the incidence among sympatric cattle herds prior to culling is used to estimate the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed TB herd breakdowns among proactively culled areas. The resulting estimate based on all data (52%) has considerable uncertainty (bootstrap 95% confidence interval (CI): 9.1-100%). Separate analyses of experimental data indicated that the largest estimated reduction in confirmed cattle TB achieved inside the proactive culling areas was 54% (overdispersion-adjusted 95% CI: 38-66%), providing a lower bound for the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB. Thus, taking into account both results, the best estimate of the average overall contribution of badgers is roughly half, with 38% being a robustly estimated lower bound. However, the dynamical model also suggested that only 5.7% (bootstrap 95% CI: 0.9-25%) of the transmission to cattle herds is badger-to-cattle with the remainder of the average overall contribution from badgers being in the form of onward cattle-to-cattle transmission. These estimates, confirming that badgers do play a role in bovine TB transmission, inform debate even if they do not point to a single way forward.