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      Exploration of the power of routine surveillance data to assess the impacts of industry-led badger culling on bovine tuberculosis incidence in cattle herds

      , BA, MSc, ScD 1 , , BSc (Hons) & ARCS, PhD 1 , , BVSc, MPhil, PhD 2 , , BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD 2

      The Veterinary Record

      BMJ Publishing Group

      Epidemiology, Statistics, Tuberculosis (TB)

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          In the UK, badgers ( Meles meles) are a well-known reservoir of infection, and there has been lively debate about whether badger culling should play a role within the British Government's strategy to control and eventually eradicate tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. The key source of information on the potential for badger culling to reduce cattle TB in high-cattle-TB-incidence areas remains the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). In late 2013, two pilot areas were subjected to industry-led badger culls. These culls differed importantly from RBCT culling in that free-ranging as well as cage-trapped badgers were shot, and culling took place over a longer time period. Their impacts will be harder to evaluate because culling was not randomised between comparable areas for subsequent comparisons of culling versus no culling. However, the authors present calculations that explore the power of routine surveillance data to assess the impacts of industry-led badger culling on cattle TB incidence. The rollout of industry-led culling as a component of a national cattle TB control policy would be controversial. The best possible estimates of the effects of such culling on confirmed cattle TB incidence should be made available to inform all stakeholders and policy-makers.

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          Impacts of widespread badger culling on cattle tuberculosis: concluding analyses from a large-scale field trial.

          Bovine tuberculosis (TB) has re-emerged as a major problem for British cattle farmers. Failure to control the infection has been linked to transmission from European badgers; badger culling has therefore formed a component of British TB control policy since 1973. To investigate the impact of repeated widespread badger culling on cattle TB, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial compared TB incidence in cattle herds in and around ten culling areas (each 100 km2) with those in and around ten matched unculled areas. Overall, cattle TB incidence was 23.2% lower (95% confidence interval (CI) 12.4-32.7% lower) inside culled areas, but 24.5% (95% CI 0.6% lower-56.0% higher) higher on land
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            Localized reactive badger culling increases risk of bovine tuberculosis in nearby cattle herds.

            Human and livestock diseases can be difficult to control where infection persists in wildlife populations. Control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in British cattle is complicated by the maintenance of Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of bTB) in badgers, acting as reservoirs of infection. Although over 20 000 badgers were culled to control bTB between 1975 and 1997, the incidence of bTB in cattle has substantially increased in parts of Great Britain in recent decades. Our case-control study, involving 1208 cattle herds, provides further evidence of the detrimental effect of localized reactive badger culling in response to the disclosure of a confirmed bTB herd breakdown in cattle. The presence of any reactive badger culling activity and increased numbers of badgers culled in the vicinity of a herd were associated with significantly increased bTB risk, even after adjusting for other important local risk factors. Such findings may partly explain why some earlier localized approaches to bTB control were ineffective.
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              The effects of annual widespread badger culls on cattle tuberculosis following the cessation of culling.

              The effective control of human and livestock diseases is challenging where infection persists in wildlife populations. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) demonstrated that, while it was underway, proactive badger (Meles meles) culling reduced bovine tuberculosis (TB) incidence inside culled areas but increased incidence in neighboring areas, suggesting that the costs of such culling might outweigh the benefits. The objective of this study was to investigate whether culling impacts persisted more than one year following the cessation of culling (the 'post-trial' period). We compared TB incidence in and around RBCT proactive culling areas with that in and around matched unculled areas. During the post-trial period, cattle TB incidence inside culled areas was reduced, to an extent significantly greater (p=0.002) than during culling. In neighboring areas, elevated risks observed during culling were not observed post-trial (p=0.038). However, the post-trial effects were comparable to those observed towards the end of the trial (inside RBCT areas: p=0.18 and neighboring areas: p=0.14). Although to-date the overall benefits of culling remain modest, they were greater than was apparent during the culling period alone. Continued monitoring will demonstrate how long beneficial effects last, indicating the overall capacity of such culling to reduce cattle TB incidence.

                Author and article information

                Vet Rec
                Vet. Rec
                The Veterinary Record
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                24 October 2015
                15 September 2015
                : 177
                : 16
                : 417
                [1 ]MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling , Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London , Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK
                [2 ]Department of Epidemiological Sciences, Animal and Plant Health Agency-Weybridge , Woodham Lane, New Haw, Addlestone, KT15 3NB, UK
                Author notes
                E-mail for correspondence: c.donnelly@

                Provenance: not commissioned; externally peer reviewed

                British Veterinary Association

                This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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                Veterinary medicine

                tuberculosis (tb), statistics, epidemiology


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