Quantifying transmission of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis among group-housed dairy calves

Corbett, Caroline S.; Jong, Mart C.M. De; Orsel, Karin; Buck, Jeroen De; Barkema, Herman W.


Johne's disease (JD) is a chronic enteritis caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), with control primarily aimed at preventing new infections among calves. The aim of the current study was to quantify calf-to-calf transmission of MAP among penmates in an experimental trial. Newborn Holstein bull calves (n = 32) were allocated into pens of 4, with 2 inoculated (IN) calves and 2 calves that were contact exposed (CE). Calves were group-housed for 3 months, with frequent collection of fecal and blood samples and tissue collection after euthanasia. The basic reproduction ratio (R0) was estimated using a final size (FS) model with a susceptible-infected model, based on INF-γELISA and tissue culture followed by qPCR. In addition, the transmission rate parameter (β) for new shedding events was estimated using a general linearized method (GLM) model with a susceptible-infected-susceptible model based on culture, followed by qPCR, of fecal samples collected during group housing. The R0 was derived for IN and CE calves separately, due to a difference in susceptibility, as well as differences in duration of shedding events. Based on the FS model, interferon-γresults from blood samples resulted in a R 0 IG of 0.90 (0.24, 2.59) and tissue culture resulted in a R 0 T of 1.36 (0.45, 3.94). Based on the GLM model, the R0 for CE calves to begin shedding (R 0 CE) was 3.24 (1.14, 7.41). We concluded that transmission of MAP infection between penmates occurred and that transmission among calves may be an important cause of persistent MAP infection on dairy farms that is currently uncontrolled for in current JD control programs.