Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences

Centre for Applied One Health Research and Policy Advice (OHRP)

Risk factors of tuberculosis (TB) related mortality in wild meerkats

Meerkats (Photo credit: © Stuart Patterson,
Royal Veterinary College, University of London

As a veterinary epidemiologist, Professor Dirk Pfeiffer conducts research in animal disease control in many countries around the world. One of his latest research projects investigated tuberculosis (TB) related mortality in wild meerkats. It aimed to aid understanding of the epidemiology of TB among meerkats and potentially other social-living wild animal host species, as well as the control measures of this challenging disease.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major and widespread disease of wildlife, livestock, and humans worldwide. Together with an international team of researchers, Professor Pfeiffer was involved in a retrospective study of over 2000 individually-identified meerkats, which are a group-living species, covering a 14-year period after the first confirmatory diagnosis of TB in this population in 2001. Individual- and group-level risk factors were analysed using time-dependent Cox regression to examine their potential influence on the time to development of end-stage TB.

The research conducted by Stuart Patterson has found that although disease due to TB occurs in younger animals, it is older animals that are at greater risk. At a group level, once TB is active within a group, the likelihood of others developing the disease rises drastically. However, there is weaker evidence of an environmental factor contributing to the risk of the disease. Since ageing and intra-group transmission are the key risk factors, possible measures to control TB in wild meerkats may include targeted vaccinations of groups that experience immigrations, or culling of older animals in diseased groups soon after an initial case. The paper titled “Social and environmental factors affect tuberculosis related mortality in wild meerkats” was accepted by the Journal of Animal Ecology in February 2017 and can be downloaded at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12649.