Since 1994, Irish cattle have been exposed to greater risks of acquiring Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) infection as a consequence of the importation of over 70,000 animals from continental Europe. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of reported clinical cases of paratuberculosis in Ireland. This study examines the prevalence of factors that promote the introduction and within-herd transmission of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) on selected Irish dairy farms in the Cork region, and the association between these factors and the results of MAP screening tests on milk sock filter residue (MFR). A total of 59 dairy farms, selected using non-random methods but apparently free of endemic paratuberculosis, were enrolled into the study. A questionnaire was used to collect data about risk factors for MAP introduction and transmission. The MFR was assessed on six occasions over 24 months for the presence of MAP, using culture and immunomagnetic separation prior to polymerase chain reaction (IMS-PCR). Furthermore, blood samples from all entire male and female animals over one year of age in 20 herds were tested by ELISA. Eighteen (31%) farms had operated as closed herds since 1994, 28 (47%) had purchased from multiple sources and 14 (24%) had either direct or indirect (progeny) contact with imported animals. Milk and colostrum were mixed on 51% of farms, while 88% of farms fed pooled milk. Thirty (51%) herds tested negative to MFR culture and IMS-PCR, 12 (20%) were MFR culture positive, 26 (44%) were IMS-PCR positive and seven (12%) were both culture and IMS-PCR positive. The probability of a positive MFR culture was significantly associated with reduced attendance at calving, and with increased use of individual calf pens and increased (but not significantly) if mulitiple suckling was practised. There was poor agreement between MFR culture and MFR IMS-PCR results, but moderate agreement between MFR culture and ELISA test results. This study highlights a lack of awareness among Irish dairy farmers about the effect of inadequate biosecurity on MAP introduction. Furthermore, within-herd transmission will be facilitated by traditional calf rearing and waste management practices. The findings of viable MAP in the presence of known transmission factors in non-clinically affected herds could be a prelude to long-term problems for the Irish cattle and agri-business generally.
Keywords: culture, dairy farms, IMS-PCR, Johne's disease, milk filter, paratuberculosis, risk factor