Milne, G.; Graham, J.; McGrath, J.; Kirke, R.; McMaster, W.; Byrne, A.W. Investigating Farm Fragmentation as a Risk Factor for Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle Herds: A Matched Case-Control Study from Northern Ireland. Pathogens2022, 11, 299.
Milne, G.; Graham, J.; McGrath, J.; Kirke, R.; McMaster, W.; Byrne, A.W. Investigating Farm Fragmentation as a Risk Factor for Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle Herds: A Matched Case-Control Study from Northern Ireland. Pathogens 2022, 11, 299.
Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) remains a challenging endemic pathogen of cattle in many parts of the globe. Spatial clustering of Mycoacterium bovis molecular types in cattle suggests that local factors are the primary drivers of spread. Northern Ireland’s agricultural landscape is comprised of highly fragmented farms, distributed across spatially discontinuous land parcels, and these highly fragmented farming structures are thought to facilitate localised spread. We conducted a matched case control study to quantify the risks of bTB breakdown with farm area, farm fragmentation, fragment dispersal, and contact with neighbouring herds. Whilst our results show small but significant increases in breakdown risk associated with each of farm fragmentation, farm area, fragment dispersal, and contact with neighbouring herds, these relationships were strongly confounded with the number of contiguous neighbours with bTB. Our key finding was that every infected neighbour led to an increase in the odds of breakdown by 40% to 50%, and that highly fragmented farms were almost twice as likely to have a bTB positive neighbour compared to non-fragmented farms. Our results suggest that after controlling for herd size, herd type, spatial and temporal factors, farm fragmentation increasingly exposes herds to infection originating from first order spatial neighbours. Given NI’s particularly fragmented landscape, and reliance on short-term leases, our data supports the hypothesis that between-herd contiguous spread is a particularly important component of NI’s bTB disease system.
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