The majority of intramammary infections with Escherichia coli in dairy cows result in transient infections with duration of about 10 days or less, although more persistent infections (2 months or longer) have been identified. We apply a mathematical model to explore the role of an intracellular mammary epithelial cell reservoir in the dynamics of infection. We included biological knowledge of the bovine immune response and known characteristics of the bacterial population in both transient and persistent infections. The results indicate that varying the survival duration of the intracellular reservoir reproduces the data for both transient and persistent infections. Survival in an intracellular reservoir is the most likely mechanism that ensures persistence of E. coli infections in mammary glands. Knowledge of the pathogenesis of persistent infections is essential to develop preventive and treatment programmes for these important infections in dairy cows
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