Contact patterns as a risk factor for bovine tuberculosis infection in a free-living adult brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula population

T Porphyre, J McKenzie, M A Stevenson

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The aim of this study was to identify risk factors for bovine tuberculosis (TB) in a free-roaming, capture-mark-recapture monitored possum Trichosurus vulpecula population in a 22-ha study site at Castlepoint, New Zealand from 1 April 1989 to 31 March 1994. A matched case-control design was used to evaluate the influence of sex, habitat and contact opportunities on TB risk. Cases comprised possums identified as TB-positive throughout the study period. Controls were selected from the group of possums that were captured and showed no clinical signs of TB throughout the study period. Measures derived from a social network analysis of possum capture locations such as degree, clustering coefficient (CC) and betweenness were used to represent potential contact opportunities among possums. Network analysis measures recorded for individual possums in the 12-month period before a diagnosis of TB were evaluated in a conditional logistic regression model. We found no evidence of an association between case status and the total number of possums with which there was potential contact (degree) (P=0.5). The odds of cases being exposed to unit increases in the number of TB-positive contacts was 2.50 (95% CI 1.24-5.05; P<0.01) times that of controls. This effect was conditional on the total number of potential contacts made, with a negative interaction with increasing degree. These findings indicate that potential contact with TB-positive possums increases the odds of disease whereas potential contact with large numbers of possums does not. This suggests that multiple contacts with TB-positive possum(s) are necessary for transmission of TB and this is more likely to occur in networks that are smaller. We challenge the hypothesis that contact with large numbers of individuals increases the probability of becoming TB infected and argue that individual contact behaviour is a determinant of the creation of TB foci within free-living possum populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-30
Number of pages10
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number3-4
Early online date7 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011


  • Animals
  • Autopsy
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cattle
  • Contact Tracing
  • Logistic Models
  • New Zealand
  • Risk Factors
  • Trichosurus
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine
  • Contact structure
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Infection dynamics
  • Wildlife disease
  • Zoonosis


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