Modelling the variation in skin-test tuberculin reactions, post-mortem lesion counts and case pathology in tuberculosis-exposed cattle: effects of animal characteristics, histories and co-infection.
Correctly identifying bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle remains a significant problem in endemic countries. We hypothesized that animal characteristics (sex, age, breed), histories (herd effects, testing, movement) and potential exposure to other pathogens (co-infection; BVDV, liver fluke and Mycobacterium avium reactors) could significantly impact the immune responsiveness detected at skin testing and the variation in post-mortem pathology (confirmation) in bTB-exposed cattle. Three model suites were developed using a retrospective observational data set of 5,698 cattle culled during herd breakdowns in Northern Ireland. A linear regression model suggested that antemortem tuberculin reaction size (difference in purified protein derivative avium [PPDa] and bovine [PPDb] reactions) was significantly positively associated with post-mortem maximum lesion size and the number of lesions found. This indicated that reaction size could be considered a predictor of both the extent (number of lesions/tissues) and the pathological progression of infection (maximum lesion size). Tuberculin reaction size was related to age class, and younger animals (<2.85 years) displayed larger reaction sizes than older animals. Tuberculin reaction size was also associated with breed and animal movement and increased with the time between the penultimate and disclosing tests. A negative binomial random-effects model indicated a significant increase in lesion counts for animals with M. avium reactions (PPDb-PPDa< 0) relative to non-reactors (PPDb-PPDa=0). Lesion counts were significantly increased in animals with previous positive severe interpretation skin-test results. Animals with increased movement histories, young animals and non-dairy breed animals also had significantly increased lesion counts. Animals from herds that had BVDV-positive cattle had significantly lower lesion counts than animals from herds without evidence of BVDV infection. Restricting the data set to only animals with a bTB visible lesion at slaughter (n=2471), an ordinal regression model indicated that liver fluke-infected animals disclosed smaller lesions, relative to liver fluke-negative animals, and larger lesions were disclosed in animals with increased movement histories.