The effect of badger culling on breakdown prolongation and recurrence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle herds in Great Britain.
Karolemeas K., Donnelly CA., Conlan AJK., Mitchell AP., Clifton-Hadley RS., Upton P., Wood JLN., McKinley TJ.
Bovine tuberculosis is endemic in cattle herds in Great Britain, with a substantial economic impact. A reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis within the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) population is thought to have hindered disease control. Cattle herd incidents, termed breakdowns, that are either 'prolonged' (lasting ≥ 240 days) or 'recurrent' (with another breakdown within a specified time period) may be important foci for onward spread of infection. They drain veterinary resources and can be demoralising for farmers. Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) data were re-analysed to examine the effects of two culling strategies on breakdown prolongation and recurrence, during and after culling, using a Bayesian hierarchical model. Separate effect estimates were obtained for the 'core' trial areas (where culling occurred) and the 'buffer' zones (up to 2 km outside of the core areas). For breakdowns that started during the culling period, 'reactive' (localised) culling was associated with marginally increased odds of prolongation, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.7 (95% credible interval [CI] 1.1-2.4) within the core areas. This effect was not present after the culling ceased. There was no notable effect of 'proactive' culling on prolongation. In contrast, reactive culling had no effect on breakdown recurrence, though there was evidence of a reduced risk of recurrence in proactive core areas during the culling period (ORs and 95% CIs: 0.82 (0.64-1.0) and 0.69 (0.54-0.86) for 24- and 36-month recurrence respectively). Again these effects were not present after the culling ceased. There seemed to be no effect of culling on breakdown prolongation or recurrence in the buffer zones. These results suggest that the RBCT badger culling strategies are unlikely to reduce either the prolongation or recurrence of breakdowns in the long term, and that reactive strategies (such as employed during the RBCT) are, if anything, likely to impact detrimentally on breakdown persistence.