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Exploring the fate of cattle herds with inconclusive reactors to the tuberculin skin test

Brunton, L A; Prosser, A; Downs, S H; Pfeiffer, D U


L A Brunton

A Prosser

S H Downs

D U Pfeiffer


Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an important animal health issue in many parts of the world. In England and Wales, the primary test to detect infected animals is the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin test, which compares immunological responses to bovine and avian tuberculins. Inconclusive test reactors (IRs) are animals that demonstrate a positive reaction to the bovine tuberculin only marginally greater than the avian reaction, so are not classified as reactors and immediately removed. In the absence of reactors in the herd, IRs are isolated, placed under movement restrictions and re-tested after 60 days. Other animals in these herds at the time of the IR result are not usually subject to movement restrictions. This could affect efforts to control TB if undetected infected cattle move out of those herds before the next TB test. To improve our understanding of the importance of IRs, this study aimed to assess whether median survival time and the hazard of a subsequent TB incident differs in herds with only IRs detected compared with negative-testing herds. Survival analysis and extended Cox regression were used, with herds entering the study on the date of the first whole herd test in 2012. An additional analysis was performed using an alternative entry date to try to remove the impact of IR retesting and is presented in the Supplementary Material. Survival analysis showed that the median survival time among IR only herds was half that observed for clear herds (2.1 years and 4.2 years respectively; p < 0.001). Extended Cox regression analysis showed that IR-only herds had 2.7 times the hazard of a subsequent incident compared with negative-testing herds in year one (hazard ratio: 2.69; 95% CI: 2.54, 2.84; p < 0.001), and that this difference in the hazard reduced by 63% per year. After 2.7 years the difference had disappeared. The supplementary analysis supported these findings showing that IR only herds still had a greater hazard of a subsequent incident after the IR re-test, but that the effect was reduced. This emphasizes the importance of careful decision making around the management of IR animals and indicates that re-testing alone may not be sufficient to reduce the risk posed by IR only herds in England and Wales.


Brunton, L. A., Prosser, A., Downs, S. H., & Pfeiffer, D. U. (2018). Exploring the fate of cattle herds with inconclusive reactors to the tuberculin skin test. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 5(228),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 12, 2018
Publication Date Sep 28, 2018
Deposit Date Sep 22, 2018
Publicly Available Date Sep 25, 2018
Journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Issue 228
Public URL


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