Open Access Research article

Bovine tuberculosis at a cattle-small ruminant-human interface in Meskan, Gurage region, Central Ethiopia

Rea Tschopp12*, Kidist Bobosha2, Abraham Aseffa2, Esther Schelling1, Meseret Habtamu2, Rahel Iwnetu2, Elena Hailu2, Rebuma Firdessa2, Jemal Hussein2, Douglas Young3 and Jakob Zinsstag1

Author Affiliations

1 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, PO Box, CH-4002, Basel, Switzerland

2 Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI/ALERT), PO Box 1005, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

3 Department of Microbiology, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus London, SW7 2AZ, UK

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:318  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-318

Published: 15 November 2011



Bovine tuberculosis (BTB) is endemic in Ethiopian cattle. The aim of this study was to assess BTB prevalence at an intensive contact interface in Meskan Woreda (district) in cattle, small ruminants and suspected TB-lymphadenitis (TBLN) human patients.


The comparative intradermal test (CIDT) was carried out for all animals involved in the cross-sectional study and results interpreted using a > 4 mm and a > 2 mm cut-off. One PPD positive goat was slaughtered and lymph nodes subjected to culture and molecular typing. In the same villages, people with lymphadenitis were subjected to clinical examination. Fine needle aspirates (FNA) were taken from suspected TBLN and analyzed by smear microscopy and molecular typing.


A total of 1214 cattle and 406 small ruminants were tested for BTB. In cattle, overall individual prevalence (> 2 mm cut-off) was 6.8% (CI: 5.4-8.5%) with 100% herd prevalence. Only three small ruminants (2 sheep and 1 goat) were reactors. The overall individual prevalence in small ruminants (> 2 mm cut-off) was 0.4% (CI: 0.03-5.1%) with 25% herd prevalence. Cattle from owners with PPD positive small ruminants were all PPD negative. 83% of the owners kept their sheep and goats inside their house at night and 5% drank regularly goat milk.

FNAs were taken from 33 TBLN suspected cases out of a total of 127 screened individuals with lymph node swellings. Based on cytology results, 12 were confirmed TBLN cases. Nine out of 33 cultures were AFB positive. Culture positive samples were subjected to molecular typing and they all yielded M. tuberculosis. M. tuberculosis was also isolated from the goat that was slaughtered.


This study highlighted a low BTB prevalence in sheep and goats despite intensive contact with cattle reactors. TBLN in humans was caused entirely by M. tuberculosis, the human pathogen. M. tuberculosis seems to circulate also in livestock but their role at the interface is unknown.