Reconsidering Mycobacterium bovis as a proxy for zoonotic tuberculosis: a molecular epidemiological surveillance study

Shannon C. Duffy, Sreenidhi Srinivasan, Megan A. Schilling, Tod Stuber, Sarah N. Danchuk, Joy S. Michael, Manigandan Venkatesan, Nitish Bansal, Sushila Maan, Naresh Jindal, Deepika Chaudhary, Premanshu Dandapat, Robab Katani, Shubhada Chothe, Maroudam Veerasami, Suelee Robbe-Austerman, Nicholas Juleff, Vivek Kapur, Marcel A. Behr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Zoonotic tuberculosis is defined as human infection with Mycobacterium bovis. Although globally, India has the largest number of human tuberculosis cases and the largest cattle population, in which bovine tuberculosis is endemic, the burden of zoonotic tuberculosis is unknown. The aim of this study was to obtain estimates of the human prevalence of animal-associated members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) at a large referral hospital in India. Methods: We did a molecular epidemiological surveillance study of 940 positive mycobacteria growth indicator tube (MGIT) cultures, collected from patients visiting the outpatient department at Christian Medical College (Vellore, India) with suspected tuberculosis between Oct 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019. A PCR-based approach was applied to subspeciate cultures. Isolates identified as MTBC other than M tuberculosis or as inconclusive on PCR were subject to whole-genome sequencing (WGS), and phylogenetically compared with publicly available MTBC sequences from south Asia. Sequences from WGS were deposited in the National Center for Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive, accession number SRP226525 (BioProject database number PRJNA575883). Findings: The 940 MGIT cultures were from 548 pulmonary and 392 extrapulmonary samples. A conclusive identification was obtained for all 940 isolates; wild-type M bovis was not identified. The isolates consisted of M tuberculosis (913 [97·1%] isolates), Mycobacterium orygis (seven [0·7%]), M bovis BCG (five [0·5%]), and non-tuberculous mycobacteria (15 [1·6%]). Subspecies were assigned for 25 isolates by WGS, which were analysed against 715 MTBC sequences from south Asia. Among the 715 genomes, no M bovis was identified. Four isolates of cattle origin were dispersed among human sequences within M tuberculosis lineage 1, and the seven M orygis isolates from human MGIT cultures were dispersed among sequences from cattle. Interpretation: M bovis prevalence in humans is an inadequate proxy of zoonotic tuberculosis. The recovery of M orygis from humans highlights the need to use a broadened definition, including MTBC subspecies such as M orygis, to investigate zoonotic tuberculosis. The identification of M tuberculosis in cattle also reinforces the need for One Health investigations in countries with endemic bovine tuberculosis. Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e66-e73
JournalThe Lancet Microbe
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology
  • Microbiology


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