Bayesian methods for estimating pathogen prevalence within groups of animals from faecal-pat sampling

Helen E. Clough, Damian Clancy, Philip D. O'Neill, Nigel P. French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter spp. have been implicated in outbreaks of food poisoning in the UK and elsewhere. Domestic animals and wildlife are important reservoirs for both of these agents, and cross-contamination from faeces is believed to be responsible for many human outbreaks. Appropriate parameterisation of quantitative microbial-risk models requires representative data at all levels of the food chain. Our focus in this paper is on the early stages of the food chain-specifically, sampling issues which arise at the farm level. We estimated animal-pathogen prevalence from faecal-pat samples using a Bayesian method which reflected the uncertainties inherent in the animal-level prevalence estimates. (Note that prevalence here refers to the percentage of animals shedding the bacteria of interest). The method offers more flexibility than traditional, classical approaches: it allows the incorporation of prior belief, and permits the computation of a variety of distributional and numerical summaries, analogues of which often are not available through a classical framework. The Bayesian technique is illustrated with a number of examples reflecting the effects of a diversity of assumptions about the underlying processes. The technique appears to be both robust and flexible, and is useful when defecation rates in infected and uninfected groups are unequal, where population size is uncertain, and also where the microbiological-test sensitivity is imperfect. We also investigated the determination of the sample size necessary for determining animal-level prevalence from pat samples to within a pre-specified degree of accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12706055
Pages (from-to)145-169
Number of pages25
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2003


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