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Two decades of tuberculosis surveillance reveal disease spread, high levels of exposure and mortality, and marked variation in disease progression in wild meerkats
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  • Nadine Müller-Klein,
  • Alice Risely,
  • Dominik Schmid,
  • Marta Manser,
  • Tim Clutton-Brock,
  • Simone Sommer
Nadine Müller-Klein
Universitat Ulm Fachbereich Biologie

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Alice Risely
Universitat Ulm Fachbereich Biologie
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Dominik Schmid
Universitat Ulm Fachbereich Biologie
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Marta Manser
Universitat Zurich Institut fur Evolutionsbiologie und Umweltwissenschaften
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Tim Clutton-Brock
University of Pretoria Mammal Research Institute
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Simone Sommer
Universitat Ulm Fachbereich Biologie
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Infections with Tuberculosis (TB)-causing agents of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex threaten human, livestock, and wildlife health globally due to the high capacity to cross trans-species boundaries. Tuberculosis is a cryptic disease characterized by prolonged, sometimes lifelong subclinical infections, complicating disease monitoring. Consequently, our understanding of infection risk, disease progression, and mortality across species affected by TB remains limited. The TB agent Mycobacterium suricattae was first recorded in the late 1990s in a wild population of meerkats inhabiting the Kalahari in South Africa and has since spread considerably, becoming a common cause of meerkat mortality. This offers an opportunity to document the epidemiology of naturally spreading TB in a wild population. Here, we synthesize more than 25 years-worth of TB reporting and social interaction data across 3,420 individuals to track disease spread, and quantify rates of TB social exposure, progression, and mortality. We found that most meerkats had been exposed to the pathogen within eight years of first detection in the study area, with exposure reaching up to 95% of the population. Approximately one quarter of exposed individuals progressed to clinical TB stages, followed by physical deterioration and death within a few months. Since emergence, 11.6% of deaths were attributed to TB, although the true toll of TB-related mortality is likely higher. Lastly, we observed marked variation in disease progression among individuals, suggesting inter-individual differences in both TB susceptibility and resistance. Our results highlight that TB prevalence and mortality could be higher than previously reported, particularly in species or populations with complex social group dynamics. Long-term studies, such as the present one, allow us to assess temporal variation in disease prevalence and progression and quantify exposure, which is rarely measured in wildlife. Long-term studies are highly valuable tools to explore disease emergence and ecology, and study host-pathogen co-evolutionary dynamics in general, and its impact on social mammals.
02 May 2022Submitted to Transboundary and Emerging Diseases
03 May 2022Submission Checks Completed
03 May 2022Assigned to Editor
10 May 2022Reviewer(s) Assigned
07 Jul 2022Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
08 Jul 2022Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
20 Jul 20221st Revision Received
20 Jul 2022Submission Checks Completed
20 Jul 2022Assigned to Editor
20 Jul 2022Reviewer(s) Assigned
25 Jul 2022Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
31 Jul 2022Editorial Decision: Accept
10 Aug 2022Published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. 10.1111/tbed.14679