Modelling disease spread in a novel host: rabies in the European badger Meles meles.
1. Although the red fox Vulpes vulpes is the main reservoir of rabies in Europe, badger Meles meles populations are known to be drastically affected. Models of badger population dynamics are combined with a fox/rabies model to examine the possibility of rabies spread in high-density badger populations, such as those found in the United Kingdom (UK). 2. Although some data exist on rabies epizootiology in the badger, there are no data on badger-to-badger contact rates (either healthy or diseased animals). As a starting point consensus expert opinion was used to devise contact probabilities, and the model was found to be insensitive to reasonable variation in these rates for the density of badgers at which these estimates were made. 3. Density-dependent (but not density-independent) contact probabilities simulated short chains of infections that may occur in continental Europe at low badger densities, and simulated true epizootics at higher densities. 4. Another possible reason for these short chains of infections in continental Europe is a very high level of fragmentation between social groups. 5. Given the high level of territorial contiguity and possible contact rates found in some parts of the UK, the model suggests that rabies is capable of spreading within the UK badger population, and a provisional map showing the likelihood of an epizootic is presented.