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Enhancing the sensitivity of tests for bovine TB
  1. Graham F. Medley, BSc, PhD and
  2. Laura E. Green, BVSc, MSc, PhD, Dip ECVPH, MRCVS
  1. School of Life Sciences and WIDER Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL
  1. e-mail: graham.medley{at}

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THE national programme to control bovine tuberculosis (TB) is over 80 years old. After some great successes and a reduction in incidence of herd breakdowns to less than one per cent in the 1960s, the programme is currently failing; the incidence of new herd breakdowns is increasing despite the numbers of tests increasing. As with any control programme, the reduction of bovine TB relies on the appropriate technology and social innovation (Dowdle and Hopkins 1998, Mariner and others 2012). Appropriate technology includes the ability to diagnose infection accurately and is critical for bovine TB since control is by culling cattle that are diagnosed as positive. Accurate diagnosis is also required to get the necessary social and political coherence throughout the industry and society, if control and elimination are to be perceived as achievable outcomes.

In the UK, the identification of infected cattle is done using the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin (SICCT) test, which relies on the host's immunological reaction to Mycobacterium bovis (the aetiological agent of bovine TB). A paper by Downs and others (2012), summarised on page 98 in this week's issue of Veterinary Record, explores the differences between two sources of tuberculin used in the SICCT. The reader may well conclude that, although there are differences in sensitivity and specificity, for the purposes of control the differences are marginal (Good and others 2011).

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