The goal of this study was to evaluate the susceptibility of North American opossums (Didelphis virginiana) to aerosol inoculation of Mycobacterium bovis at two dose levels in order to gain information on disease pathogenesis, fecal shedding of the organism, and the potential role that opossums play in the spread of this disease in nature. Six opossums received high dose (1×107 colony forming units (cfu) by aerosol inoculation, six opossums received low dose (1×103 cfu inoculation, and six opossums were sham-inoculated with sterile water and served as controls. Lungs were the most frequently infected tissues, with nine of 12 inoculated opossums positive for M. bovis on culture. Gross lesions consisted of multifocal pneumonia and enlarged lymph nodes. Microscopically, granulomatous pneumonia and granulomatous lymphadenitis associated with acid-fast bacilli were present in eight of 12 inoculated opossums. Fecal shedding of M. bovis was uncommon at both inoculation doses. While opossums were highly susceptible to aerosol inoculation of M. bovis, they did not become emaciated or develop widely disseminated lesions. From this study, opossums may transmit tuberculosis by aerosol infection to other opossums in close contact and serve as a source of infection to carnivores that feed upon them, however, transmission of the disease to large herbivores by fecal shedding or direct contact may be less likely.
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Vol. 39 • No. 2