Bovine tuberculosis infection in wild mammals in the south-west region of England: a survey of prevalence and a semi-quantitative assessment of the relative risks to cattle.
In the United Kingdom, badgers are implicated in the transmission of Mycobacterium bovis to cattle, but little information is available on the potential role of other wild mammals. This paper presents the results of the largest systematic UK survey of M. bovis infection in other wild mammals. Mammal carcasses (4715) from throughout the South-West region of England were subjected to a systematic post mortem examination, microbiological culture of tissues and spoligotyping of isolates. Infection was confirmed in fox, stoat, polecat, common shrew, yellow-necked mouse, wood mouse, field vole, grey squirrel, roe deer, red deer, fallow deer and muntjac. Prevalence in deer may have been underestimated because the majority were incomplete carcasses, which reduced the likelihood of detecting infection. Infected cases were found in Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Lesions were found in a high proportion of spoligotype-positive fallow, red and roe deer, and a single fox, stoat and muntjac. M. bovis spoligotypes occurred in a similar frequency of occurrence to that in cattle and badgers. Data on prevalence, pathology, abundance and ecology of wild mammals was integrated in a semi-quantitative risk assessment of the likelihood of transmission to cattle relative to badgers. Although most species presented a relatively low risk, higher values and uncertainty associated with muntjac, roe, red and in particular fallow deer, suggest they require further investigation. The results suggest that deer should be considered as potential, although probably localized, sources of infection for cattle.