Sunday, October 29, 2017

Infectivity of vaccinated badgers

Last week, UCD Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, and the Quantitative Veterinary Epidemiology group, Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands published a paper -[link] on the vaccination of badgers.

 Over four years, groups of badgers were jabbed with either BCG or a placebo and then tested for results. The paper describes:
In this manuscript, we present the results of a badger field trial conducted in Ireland and discuss how the novel trial design and analytical methods allowed the effects of vaccination on protection against infection and, more importantly, on transmission to be estimated.
Cutting through all the guff, we pick out the following paragraphs:
Over the study period, 55 new infections occurred in non-vaccinated (out of 239 = 23.0%) and 40 in vaccinated (out of 201 = 19.9%) badgers.
This is 'protection against infection'  part. So after vaccinating, a difference of  just 3 per cent? But then the modelers got to work, and "Statistical analysis showed that susceptibility to natural exposure with M. bovis was reduced in vaccinated compared to placebo treated badgers: vaccine efficacy for susceptibility, VES, was 59% (95% CI = 6.5%-82%)." But crucially:
However, a complete lack of effect from BCG vaccination on the infectivity of vaccinated badgers was observed, i.e. vaccine efficacy for infectiousness (VEI) was 0%.
Infectivity of badgers is the amount of detritus left behind for any other mammal to fall over. That's the 'transmission' bit. Especially important for our sentinel, tested cattle, and described in the paper as " extremely important in the case of vaccination in badgers, as the ultimate goal is to help in the control or eradication of M. bovis infection in cattle."

 Not just in Ireland either. Our lot have been playing with BCG (at 10x the rate for humans) for several years. We discussed their results here - [link] and veterinary professionals gave their view here - [link]
And we also remember poor old badger D313 - [link] who had his dose of BCG and developed zoonotic Tuberculosis in pretty much every organ, during the Lesellier trial. -[link]

So the paper's 'stand out' paragraph for us is this blinder:
A reduction in the total infectivity of vaccinated and subsequently infected badgers in the field had been anticipated based on the reduction in disease progression observed in vaccinated compared to non vaccinated badgers in experimental studies (Chambers et al., 2011).

However, no reduction of infectivity was found in our study. The lack of effect of BCG vaccination on infectivity in the general badger population is thus at odds with the hypothesis that vaccination, by reducing disease progression, reduces the infectivity of vaccinated and subsequently infected badgers.

From this study, we cannot determine whether a similar reduction in disease progression to that observed in experimental studies was found in the field as no post-mortem data were available. Nevertheless, if that reduction in disease progression does exist, we did not find a concurrent reduction in infectivity. The lack of effect of vaccination on infectivity has implications in terms of the effectiveness of BCG badger vaccination in Ireland (or how much reduction of transmission is achieved by vaccination).
Post mortem data was available to Lesellier, and those vaccinated badgers all had lesions and all were shedding. (Link above)

The Farmers Union of Wales understands only too well, how ineffective faffing about with vaccinating badgers is. In an an article - [link] published by the Institute for Welsh Affairs earlier this year, Dr. Nick Fenwick describes the result of four years of vaccinating:
So it comes as little surprise that the latest official report on the badger vaccination programme in north Pembrokeshire, which cost £3.7 million, concludes that “Consistent trends in indicators of bTB incidence have not yet been seen…”
Perhaps someone should tell The Badger Trust, Rosie Woodroffe,  Brian May, and even the Secretary of State - link] And also ask, with these results echoing those of Lessellier in 2011, why on earth anyone is still promoting and funding this?  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Would you choose a veterinary professional to tune your guitar? Probably not.

But today our Secretary of State for Agriculture tweeted about his meeting with superannuated star gazer, Dr. Brian May - he of Save Me fame - to discuss a way forward on the thorny question (at least for an upwardly mobile politician) of zoonotic Tuberculosis.

This was the Tweet from Save Me, updating Gove on the way forward. Improved cattle testing, vaccination and stupid farmers. Nice one.

Now Gove is not the sharpest knife in the box, having (according to Private Eye) attempted to unblock his lavatory with a vacuum cleaner - until he was stopped. We understand that he is however well known for echoing the thoughts of those to whom he spoke most recently.

So perhaps some refreshing factoids better make their way into his shell like.

 For instance, in our PQs over a decade ago now, we asked the reason why certain areas of the UK, which had undergone a thorough cull of badgers, had achieved such success.

The answer was unequivocal and needs to be inscribed over the door of every building occupied by this most political of government departments, and especially the office of the Secretary of State:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949 - Hansard]
Other areas too had spectacular success, including East Offaly, Steeple Lees and Hartland, but also the four area trial - [link] in Ireland with a reduction in cattle TB of around 96 per cent.

 And two decades or more ago, these areas had no bolt on cattle measures at all. Particularly of the sort Dr. May and his cohorts propose.

Just, as the PQ said 'a systematic removal of badgers from the area'.

Keep it simple.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

RSPCA and the cull

From The Times - link] this morning: (The Times is paywall protected)

 "The RSPCA has softened its stance on badger culling by dropping a promise to publicly shame or investigate farmers who take part.
After years of threatening farmers with public disgrace and expulsion from its animal welfare schemes, it said it had accepted advice from “external auditors” that culling badgers was not an “automatic breach” of its ethical farming rules.

The audit was launched last year by its former chief executive, Jeremy Cooper. His predecessor, Gavin Grant, had threatened to “name and shame” farmers involved in the cull and said people would boycott milk “from farms soaked in badgers’ blood”.

 That's big of them isn't it?

 A previous headline could have been 'RSPCA promotes zoonotic Tuberculosis throughout it supplying farms'.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Beneficial crisis?

Most crises create casualties by the lorry load, but also beneficiaries - if you are cute enough to jump onto that particular bandwagon.  'Bovine' TB or zoonotic Tuberculosis as we prefer to label it, is no exception.
Hard on the heels of those reams of 'research' which we spoke about in this post - [link] comes a new initiative from animal health screening lab, BioBest.

 With a little help from Danielle Gunn-Moore, BioBest now advertise a screening test - [link] for Canine and Feline TB. Their sales sheet explains:
The interferon gamma test is intended to assist in the diagnosis of suspected canine and feline TB cases. The interferon gamma test can be useful in categorising cats and dogs with suggestive lesions. This in turn can inform decisions as to whether treatment is appropriate and whether it is necessary to report the case to AHVLA (Suspected Bovine TB is a notifiable disease in all mammals).

There is also some evidence that the test can be used to monitor treatment, with responses falling in cats in remission. The test has been developed in collaboration with Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore of the University of Edinburgh and with the technical support of colleagues from AHVLA.
It is to be hoped that the use of GammaIfn is somewhat more specific to zTB when used on cats and dogs, than its use has proved to be in cattle. False positives in that species are well documented.
And is 'treatment' of zTB, an often fatal zoonotic pathogen, in a companion animal, likely to be sharing air space, if not its owner's bed, a good idea?

But we digress..

We came across Professor Gunn-Moore in 2013, when she published articles giving a link to infected badgers and an increase in felines with TB. - [link] We remarked then, that with a veterinary post mortem on a cat costing in the region of £100, digging a hole may be cheaper.

 And we are also reminded of the genetic predictions made concerning feline encepalopothies in the 90s, when it was thought that Siamese / Burmese cats may be more susceptible. Until it was realised that the value of these animals made veterinary investigations more likely.

 BioBest say:
The test will initially be performed on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month at a cost of £200 per sample.
That £200 per sample, would buy a truck load of cats. And it is unlikely that many owners taking up BioBest's offer of screening, will have offered unpasteurised milk to their pets..

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ker -ching.

If there's one thing we've learned over the last two decades gathering information about the UK's epidemic of zTuberculosis, it is that salary and pensions are way ahead of any principles - scientific or otherwise.

 We first came across this phenomenon with the diminutive professor, John Bourne. He headed the ISG (Independent Scientific Group, who were actually neither of those adjectives) and conducted the farce of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) 1997 - 2005. This was a debacle in which he was proud to explain to the EFRA committee that his trial's conclusion - [link] was predetermined before it started. Ker-ching.

 Then we have Warwick University, happily trousering at least £1m to develop their qPCR test for use in non-invasive screening and identifying infectious badgers. Building on the validation in 2011, Liz Wellington's team - [link] were provided with a substantial sum of taxpayer's cash to bring this test into field use. Only to fly in the face of a farmer contributor, when asked to endorse the method for culling badgers. That, Warwick staff stated unequivocally, they would not do - [link] 
We have yet to ascertain whether Warwick retain Intellectual Property Rights over a taxpayer funded test. But although they do not wish it used to identify infected badger groups, they seem very happy to play with it in the 'environment'. - Ker-ching.

And then there is the fragrant Rosie: Professor Bourne's sidekick on the RBCT, he taught her well.

Presently, together with a few political vets and Wellington's team, Rosie Woodroffe is playing around with a grossly infected group of badgers in West Cornwall.
Farmers involved are telling us that they wish they'd never agreed to let these people on to their farms. The drip feed of 'results' while making good copy, bear no relation to reality - [link] at farm level. Farmers who regularly lost just one of two cattle per test, now report lorry loads going, after Rosie's lot had cage trapped them.
But following TB infected badgers, the cash keeps rolling. Ker-ching.

Wales too has its benficiaries of this crisis. In 2010, their chief veterinary officer, Christianne Glossop (picture above)  gave a stunning overview -[video link] of her plans to eradicate TB in Wales.
(Apologies - blogger didn't like the video link, so it's added as a URL link. Click to view)
What Glossop said in 2010 was spot on when she speaks of 'tackling all sources of infection' and that 'we must deal with infection in badgers'. And crucially, culling badgers 'makes a big difference to the level of infection in the countryside' and that 'directly reduces infection in cattle herds'. All correct.

But with a little arm twisting from an incoming Labour administration, seven years and heap of dead cattle later, Glossop now attempts to defend Wales's appalling record on eradicating TB without touching badgers. Record numbers of cattle slaughterings, the Welsh four year vaccination debacle, (much cash, but no effect on cattle TB at all) and the Intensive Action Area (where tried and failed cattle measures were repeated) leading to many cattle farmers giving up the struggle.
All this after the Welsh badger cull was cancelled.  Glossop is still in her position. Ker-ching.

 As we have said many times, it is difficult to get someone to understand something, when his salary depends upon him not understanding. Ker-ching.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September update.

As autumn 2017 starts, Defra has announced that several new badger cull areas have met their cat's cradle of rules and calculations, imposed by arms length NGO, Natural England.

Operating for 42 nights, at a timing of the farmer led groups' choosing, the culls aim to reduce populations of badgers down to a level in which zoonotic tuberculosis (zTB) poses few problems to mammals these infected creatures (and the detritus they leave behind) encounter.

Aimed by instigators the NFU, more at winning a Judicial Review than a genuine attempt at disease control, these culls aim to control badger numbers. Thus very neatly passing the buck of  legal responsibility for control of a grade 3 pathogen. They operate using cage trapping and free shooting individual animals at night. That, rather than identifying infected social groups and culling the whole nocturnal social group underground in one hit during the day, which is now quite possible.

By the chosen cull method, any badger is encouraged to sup peanuts prior to being picked off one at a time. The background and government paperwork can be viewed here - [link]

Any benefit to local cattle (or sheep, goat, pig, alpaca or deer) populations will take longer by this method, as it did with the 8 night forays of the RBCT. But the results are said by the operators, if not by the statisticians, to be positive.

The statisticians, by playing with 'New breakdowns' instead of the more apt ' Herds under TB restriction ' appear to have juggled their input data - [link] to show - not a lot. But taken to its obvious conclusion, if ALL herds were under restriction at the beginning of a cull, but clear at the end, by this method of calculation there would be no benefit at all. And that's about as daft as it gets.

 We are hearing of some very significant clearances of herd breakdowns, but if such herds were under TB2 at the beginning of their respective culls, that information would be ignored. Even two farms known to our contributors, which have been under restriction for some 17 years and after just one years' culling are now clear to trade.

 But it's not all plain sailing. One superannuated star gazer, a pop star with a late degree in astrology, describes the culls as 'a tragedy and a disaster' - [link]
Dr. Brian May, believes that:
".... the real solution is in sight, through enhanced TB testing,”
“In years to come, I’m sure that badger culling will be seen as an enormous red herring that squandered time, effort and money, gave farmers frustration and false hope, and diverted attention away from finding the real solution.”
Perhaps when taking time out from his pop concerts, May should read a bit of history, rather than promoting its repetition. And to help him, there are several links in this posting - [link] which illustrate the futility of a one sided solution, to a problem which has at its heart, a wildlife reservoir of disease and a group of 'scientists' whose salaries and pensions depend on them not understanding that problem.

 And then there are votes and / or subscription cash.
We have already encountered this road brock block from the National Trust - [link] and this week's Farmers Guardian reports a similar problem with East Cheshire County Council - [link] which has banned badger culling on any land directly controlled by the council. As tenants have to commit land for four years and more, that decision may also affect CC farms although at present, that scenario seems to be denied..

With an eye on voluntary contributions, the RSPCA have also taken up arms against culling badgers, while completely ignoring the endemic zoonotic disease which they host. 

 As readers will be aware, we have always promoted targeted badger culling, using state of the art technology to identify infected groups, based on tested cattle results.

But sadly the people who have trousered millions of pounds to get this test to the point of widespread use - [link] prefer not to use it for culling badgers.

So, in the next few months, a Dad's Army of farmers and contractors will pop off any badger which crosses their path, regardless of its health, and hope to lower the population level. And that's a bit like the vaccination supporters, led by the fragrant Rosie Woodroffe, who are doing exactly the same with BCG. Any badger will do, regardless of its health and how many times it rocks up for a peanut fest.

 We suppose much time and effort could be saved if Rosie's lot trapped badgers and the farmers shot them. Job done.

 Finally may we remind readers to fill in the latest consultation on more cattle measures, from Defra, links in the posting below.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

European Food Standards Agency comments on zTB

As the EU collects its various bits of  past Animal Health Acts and bundles them into one new Act, which was accepted in April 2016, comes into force in 2021 and which we described in this posting = [link] the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) has also described our  pathetic efforts  one sided plans for eradication of zTB.

They describe efforts to eradicate zTB from a Great Britain by concentrating on killing  sentinel tested cattle, when the bacteria is hosted in a wild maintenance population, as 'highly improbable'.
In principle, the risk-mitigating measures should be effective and proportionate; the disease has been eradicated in several countries and the prevalence at EU level has decreased following implementation of the specific legislation above and the so called ‘trading directive’ Council Directive 64/432/EEC as amended and the conditions laid down by the OIE and WHO.

However, in some settings, the risk-mitigating measures are neither effective nor proportionate, in particular, the measures laid down in the legislation apply solely to bovine animals, but M. bovis is not a single host pathogen. As a fundamental epidemiological principle, a disease which is shared and maintained independently by a range of species in the same environment cannot be effectively controlled only by addressing the problem in one of the affected species.

If the control measures are not applied to all epidemiologically relevant species - either farmed (goats, alpaca, deer, pigs, sheep) or wildlife (badger,wild boar, deer) then eradication of tuberculosis in bovines will be highly improbable.
This a map of member states of the European Union, where zTB has been successfully eradicated by test / slaughter in most states. Bottom of the pile in 2015 is GB (including Wales).

The EFSA report can be viewed in full on this link - [link]

The report also points out that "the prevalence [of zTB] ranges from absence of infected animals in most OTF regions to a regional prevalence in non-OTF regions of 15.8% in Andalusia, Spain, considering all herds, or a reported regional prevalence of test-positive cattle herds of 17.7% within the United Kingdom in Wales and England."
" A herd prevalence > 10–20% is reported by the United Kingdom in Wales and England, with a reported highest regional prevalence in the EU of 17.7%. "
Those figures are beyond appalling. And in 2016, at 107, 000,000 euros, the cost of the UK's stupidity is more than the totals of the next five countries affected added together.
It really is time the extremists on both side of this debate were kicked firmly back to their respective boxes, thus allowing Defra and the farming industry to eradicate the bacterium itself, rather than any host it may have infected.