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Bovine TB Disguised by Liver Fluke

from Nature News

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) could be spreading across Britain because the most widely used test for the disease is ineffective when cattle are infected with a common liver parasite.

The liver fluke Fasciola hepatica was already known to affect the standard skin test for bTB, but it was unclear whether the fluke stopped the disease developing or merely hid the symptoms. A study published today in Nature Communications suggests that the latter is more likely, and that the effect is significant. It estimates that around a third of bTB cases in England and Wales are undiagnosed because the test is less sensitive in cattle infected with the fluke.

Researchers tested milk from dairy herds across England and Wales for antibodies against F. hepatica, an indication of infection, and added the data to an existing model of bTB transmission. If they assumed that a fluke infection inhibited bTB detection, they achieved a closer match between the model and actual bTB detection rates. The authors suggest that the fluke may alter the production by T lymphocytes--key cells in the immune system--of the protein interferon-?, which is crucial to a genuine result in both the skin test and the second most common test for bTB, the interferon-? release assay (IGRA) blood test.

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