Field evaluation of tracer sheep for the detection of early natural infection with Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis

L.A. Reddacliff, H. McGregor, K.A. Abbott, R.J. Whittington

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    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: To determine whether tracer sheep could be used to detect S strain Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis on pasture, and to provide further insight into the early stages of infection. Design: A field study on two farms in an endemic area for ovine Johne's disease in New South Wales. Procedure: Lambs, weaners and adult ewes were introduced to pasture with varying amounts of M a paratuberculosis contamination and monitored using skin tests, gamma interferon assay, faecal culture and serial necropsy of small groups for up to 15 months after first exposure. Results: Culture from tissues was the most sensitive method for detecting early infection in sheep after natural exposure to S strain M a paratuberculosis. The organism was detected in at least one introduced sheep from every exposed group, 6 to 12 months after first exposure. Histopathological lesions were detected in only 17% of culture-positive sheep, and only after at least 8 months of exposure. Similarly, antemortem diagnostic tests had low sensitivity during the early stages of naturally acquired infection. There was no evidence of any differences in infection rate between sheep first exposed as neonates, as weaners or as adults. A higher proportion of lambs born to ewes from an infected flock were infected than lambs suckling uninfected ewes introduced to the same infected environment, and infection was detected earlier in these 'resident' lambs. Conclusion: These findings indicate that groups of unexposed 'tracer' sheep, tested by culture of tissues at slaughter 6 to 12 months after first exposure, might be a useful way to assess pasture infectivity in control programs for ovine Johne's disease.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)426-433
    Number of pages8
    JournalAustralian Veterinary Journal
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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