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Title: Social networks and infectious disease transmission : epidemiology of tuberculosis in wild meerkats
Author: Drewe, J. A.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2009
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I investigate the role of specific social interactions in the transmission of Mycobacterium bovis (bovine tuberculosis; bTB) in a free-living population of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. During a prospective cohort study lasting two and a half years, I use detailed pathologic investigations, repeated live sampling of individuals and social network analysis (SNA) of observed inter- and intergroup social interactions, to elucidate the epidemiology of bTB in a habituated population of 300 meerkats living in 14 social groups. I show that bTB in meerkats is a disseminated disease which spreads to multiple organs via haematogenous and lymphatic routes. The results suggest that meerkats acquire M. bovis infection principally via the respiratory and oral routes, and excrete it mainly from the respiratory tract and suppurating skin wounds. I find that intergroup transmission appears to occur via roving males that are infected whilst visiting other groups and subsequently return to their original groups, and not via aggressive intergroup encounters involving entire groups. I develop an individual-based dynamic network model to elucidate the relative importance of grooming and aggression in the transmission of M. bovis between meerkats. I found grooming to be more important than aggression in transmitting M. bovis between meerkats within a social group, with groomers at higher risk of infection then groomees. The short lifespan of most meerkats relative to the latent period of M. bovis in this species mean that few individuals reach the infectious stage. This is likely to be a limiting factor in the spread of bTB in populations of free-ranging wild meerkats.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available