Paratuberculosis is a chronic bacterial infection of the intestine in cattle caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map). To better understand Map transmission in Irish dairy herds, we adapted the French stochastic individual-based epidemiological simulation model to account for seasonal herd demographics. We investigated the probability of Map persistence over time, the within-herd prevalence over time, and the relative importance of transmission pathways, and assessed the relative effectiveness of test-and-cull control strategies. We investigated the impact on model outputs of calf separation from cows (calves grazed on pasture adjacent to cows vs. were completely separated from cows) and test-and-cull. Test-and-cull scenarios consisted of highly test-positive cows culled within 13 or 4 weeks after detection, and calf born to highly test-positive cows kept vs removed. We simulated a typical Irish dairy herd with on average 82 lactating cows, 112 animals in total. Each scenario was iterated 1000 times to adjust variation caused by stochasticity. Map was introduced in the fully naive herd through the purchase of a moderately infectious primiparous cow. Infection was considered to persist when at least one infected animal remained in the herd or when Map was present in the environment.
The probability of Map persistence 15 years after introduction ranged between 32.2-42.7 % when calves and cows had contact on pasture, and between 18.9-29.4 % when calves and cows were separated on pasture. The most effective control strategy was to cull highly test-positive cows within four weeks of detection (absolute 10 % lower persistence compared to scenarios without control). Removing the offspring of highly test-positive dams did not affect either Map persistence or within-herd prevalence of Map.
Mean prevalence 15 years after Map introduction was highest (63.5 %) when calves and cows had contact on pasture. Mean prevalence was 15 % lower (absolute decrease) when cows were culled within 13 weeks of a high test-positive result, and 28 % lower when culled within 4 weeks.
Around calving, the infection rate was high, with calves being infected in utero or via the general indoor environment (most important transmission routes). For the remainder of the year, the incidence rate was relatively low with most calves being infected on pasture when in contact with cows. Testing and culling was an effective control strategy when it was used prior to the calving period to minimize the number of highly infectious cows present when calves were born.