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Bovine tuberculosis (BTB) remains as a costly disease of cattle-herds in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). This persistence is partially attributable to the presence of M. bovis infection in a wildlife reservoir, the European badger (Meles meles). Thus, both area-wide and limited-area targeted-badger-culling have been part of the ROI-BTB control/eradication program to help reduce the future incidence of a cattle-herd BTB breakdown (i.e. a "new herd-level occurrence of BTB"). However, neither badger-culling practice can be sustained as a major component in the ongoing BTB eradication program in the ROI. Vaccination of badgers with Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has been proposed as an alternative to badger culling. Thus, in 2011, a five-year non-inferiority study was implemented in seven counties in the ROI. This study was designed to compare and contrast the cattle-herd-BTB-incidence in areas where intramuscular badger vaccination would be implemented versus the cattle-herd-BTB-incidence in the remaining area of the same county where targeted-badger-culling was maintained as the standard treatment response to probable badger-sourced BTB breakdowns. Our outcome of interest was a new cattle-herd-BTB-episode (breakdown) with a total of >2 standard skin-test (SICTT) reactors detected during the episode. Treatments (badger vaccination or targeted badger culling) were cluster allocated based on where the majority of the herd owner's land was located. To assess the impact of the two treatments, we compared the incidence-risk, of our defined outcome, for cattle herds in the area under vaccination to the outcome incidence-risk for cattle herds in the remainder of the same county after 4 and 5 years of having implemented badger vaccination. A random-effects logit model with adjustment for clustering by treatment, and statistical control of herd-type, herd-size and five-year prior-BTB-episode history was used for our analyses. Although not included in the logistic model, a relative badger density metric based on the annual number of badgers captured-per-sett-night of capturing effort was developed for each treatment area; this metric indicated that relative badger density was approximately 40 % higher in vaccination areas than in the targeted badger-culling areas during our study. Overall, our study results indicated that vaccination was not inferior to targeted badger-culling in four counties and badger vaccination was deemed to produce ambivalent results in one (County Cork North) of the seven study sites in the ROI. A post-study investigation, in County Galway, where vaccination was deemed inferior to target culling, revealed that widespread purchases of cattle from a nearby cattle mart, by herd owners in the vaccination-area, was associated with the increased herd and vaccination-area risk of BTB. No single "biasing hypothesis" was evident for the apparent vaccine inferiority in the second study site (County Monaghan) where vaccination was deemed inferior to targeted culling; hence no further investigations were conducted. Copyright © 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


S W Martin, J O'Keeffe, A W Byrne, L E Rosen, P W White, G McGrath. Is moving from targeted culling to BCG-vaccination of badgers (Meles meles) associated with an unacceptable increased incidence of cattle herd tuberculosis in the Republic of Ireland? A practical non-inferiority wildlife intervention study in the Republic of Ireland (2011-2017). Preventive veterinary medicine. 2020 Jun;179:105004

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PMID: 32361147

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