O’Brien et al. Irish Veterinary Journal (2023) 76:16
Having entered into its second century, the eradication program for bovine tuberculosis (bTB, caused by Mycobacterium bovis) in the United States of America occupies a position both enviable and daunting. Excepting four counties in Michigan comprising only 6109 km2 (0.06% of US land area) classified as Modified Accredited, as of April 2022 the entire country was considered Accredited Free of bTB by the US Department of Agriculture for cattle and bison. On the surface, the now well-described circumstances of endemic bTB in Michigan, where white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) serve as a free-ranging wildlife maintenance host, may appear to be the principal remaining barrier to national eradication. However, the situation there is unique in the U.S., and far-removed from the broader issues of bTB control in the remainder of the country. In Michigan, extensive surveillance for bTB in deer over the last quarter century, and regulatory measures to maximize the harvest of publicly-owned wildlife, have been implemented and sustained. Prevalence of bTB in deer has remained at a low level, although not sufficiently low to eliminate cattle herd infections. Public attitudes towards bTB, cattle and deer, and their relative importance, have been more influential in the management of the disease than any limitations of biological science. However, profound changes in the demographics and social attitudes of Michigan’s human population are underway, changes which are likely to force a critical reevaluation of the bTB control strategies thus far considered integral. In the rest of the U.S. where bTB is not self-sustaining in wildlife, changes in the scale of cattle production, coupled with both technical and non-technical issues have created their own substantial challenges. It is against this diverse backdrop that the evolution of whole genome sequencing of M. bovis has revolutionized understanding of the history and ecology of bTB in Michigan, resolved previously undiscernible epidemiological puzzles, provided insights into zoonotic transmission, and unified eradication efforts across species and agencies. We describe the current status of bTB eradication in the U.S., how circumstances and management have changed, what has been learned, and what remains more elusive than ever.
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