1. Genetic diversity and distribution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex strains from livestock and wildlife (free ranging and captive) in South Africa

This research aims to:-

(i)   Establish the genetic diversity and distribution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex species circulating in livestock, free-ranging and captive wildlife species in the country.

(ii)   Trace back sources of infection for an improved surveillance and control of the disease.

(iii)  Assess the extent of intra- and interspecies transmission of tuberculosis in animals.


2. Characterization of non-tuberculous mycobacteria from livestock, wildlife and aquatic animals and their environment in South Africa

Non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are believed to be natural inhabitants of the environment, even though some species have been isolated from clinical samples only. Few NTM are mostly opportunistic pathogens and in general are of low virulence while most species have never been reported to cause disease.  For this reason, these bacteria have been neglected for many years, as they have always been thought to be of no clinical relevance and have been dismissed as contaminants. However, some NTM species like Mycobacterium szulgai, Mycobacterium marinum, Mycobacterium kansasii, and Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) are now recognised as emerging or opportunistic pathogens of humans and animals causing mycobacteriosis, such that their isolation from clinical samples is regarded as significant. From a veterinary point of view, the major significance of NTM is the cross-reactive immune responses induced by certain NTM that interfere with the diagnosis of bovine tuberculosis by immuno-assays. These specificity constraints are associated with the presence of shared antigens between certain NTM species and M. bovis.

3. Prevalence and characterisation of Mycobacterium species in slaughter animals at Gauteng Province abattoirs: food safety implications for meat consumers and zoonotic risk posed to abattoir workers.

This research project is done in collaboration with the University of Pretoria and Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural development. The study is conducted at selected abattoirs in the Gauteng Province. Abattoirs play a key role in the surveillance of tuberculosis; therefore, information generated from the project will provide massive amounts of data that could serve as warning system to future outbreaks and surveillance of the current status on the prevalence of TB in livestock and wildlife in Gauteng abattoirs. In addition, this study will ensure that contaminated meat does not end up in the retail markets and will unveil the risks posed to abattoir workers exposed to contaminated meat.

4. Detection and molecular characterization of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis from South African livestock

This research project is done in collaboration with the University of Pretoria. Paratuberculosis poses a big threat to sheep farming and in particular to wool production and has a significant effect on the economy. It is chronic enteritis of ruminants for which the main clinical signs are intermittent diarrhoea and weight loss. Usually animals are infected in their first year of life by ingesting food contaminated with faeces from their dams and other infected animals. Ovine paratuberculosis and bovine paratuberculosis are of high prevalence, with South Africa suffering mostly from ovine paratuberculosis. Infection due to MAP in an infected farm can result in premature culling, decreased milk production, veterinary cost and loss of wool production from sheep farms. The great economic loss and threat to food securities associated with MAP infection pushes for a well-developed control program of the disease in South Africa. This project aims to establish the genetic diversity and distribution of M. avium subspecies paratuberculosis and to identify sources of paratuberculosis infections.

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