Pathogens such as MERS-CoV, influenza A/H5N1 and influenza A/H7N9 are currently generating sporadic clusters of spillover human cases from animal reservoirs. The lack of a clear human epidemic suggests that the basic reproductive number R0 is below or very close to one for all three infections. However, robust cluster-based estimates for low R0 values are still desirable so as to help prioritise scarce resources between different emerging infections and to detect significant changes between clusters and over time. We developed an inferential transmission model capable of distinguishing the signal of human-to-human transmission from the background noise of direct spillover transmission (e.g. from markets or farms). By simulation, we showed that our approach could obtain unbiased estimates of R0, even when the temporal trend in spillover exposure was not fully known, so long as the serial interval of the infection and the timing of a sudden drop in spillover exposure were known (e.g. day of market closure). Applying our method to data from the three largest outbreaks of influenza A/H7N9 outbreak in China in 2013, we found evidence that human-to-human transmission accounted for 13% (95% credible interval 1%–32%) of cases overall. We estimated R0 for the three clusters to be: 0.19 in Shanghai (0.01-0.49), 0.29 in Jiangsu (0.03-0.73); and 0.03 in Zhejiang (0.00-0.22). If a reliable temporal trend for the spillover hazard could be estimated, for example by implementing widespread routine sampling in sentinel markets, it should be possible to estimate sub-critical values of R0 even more accurately. Should a similar strain emerge with R0>1, these methods could give a real-time indication that sustained transmission is occurring with well-characterised uncertainty.
The incidence of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Great Britain has generally been increasing in recent decades. Routine ante-mortem testing of cattle herds is required for disease surveillance and control, due to the asymptomatic nature of the infection. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishes TB incidence trends as the percentage of officially TB-free (OTF) herds tested per month with OTF status withdrawn due to post-mortem evidence of infection. This method can result in artefactual fluctuations. We have previously demonstrated an alternative method, that distributes incidents equally over the period of risk, provides a more accurate representation of underlying risk. However, this method is complex and it may not be sufficiently straightforward for use in the national statistics. Here we present a simple incidence-based method that adjusts for the time between tests and show it can provide a reasonable representation of the underlying risk without artefactual fluctuations.
The role of badgers in the transmission and maintenance of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in British cattle is widely debated as part of the wider discussions on whether badger culling and/or badger vaccination should play a role in the government’s strategy to eradicate cattle TB. The key source of information on the contribution from badgers within high-cattle-TB-incidence areas of England is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), with two analyses providing estimates of the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB in these areas. A dynamical model characterizing the association between the estimated prevalence of Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of bovine TB) among badgers culled in the initial RBCT proactive culls and the incidence among sympatric cattle herds prior to culling is used to estimate the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed TB herd breakdowns among proactively culled areas. The resulting estimate based on all data (52%) has considerable uncertainty (bootstrap 95% confidence interval (CI): 9.1-100%). Separate analyses of experimental data indicated that the largest estimated reduction in confirmed cattle TB achieved inside the proactive culling areas was 54% (overdispersion-adjusted 95% CI: 38-66%), providing a lower bound for the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB. Thus, taking into account both results, the best estimate of the average overall contribution of badgers is roughly half, with 38% being a robustly estimated lower bound. However, the dynamical model also suggested that only 5.7% (bootstrap 95% CI: 0.9-25%) of the transmission to cattle herds is badger-to-cattle with the remainder of the average overall contribution from badgers being in the form of onward cattle-to-cattle transmission. These estimates, confirming that badgers do play a role in bovine TB transmission, inform debate even if they do not point to a single way forward.