We've touched on other country's problems with bTb and their control of any wildlife reservoir in several posts on this site, the most recent being "Tb in Michigan - "If we pull away and do nothing it will only get worse". (archived 3/4/2005)
In that post we were delighted to see that Michigan had taken development of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology further along than their 'Light Cycler' . In March 2001 this machine was offered to the UK Government to rapidly diagnose FMD on site. One individual went as far as ordering one at a cost of £20,000, but Government intervened to prevent this without providing the industry or even the most generous benefactor with an explanation as to why they had refused it.
This 'magic box' designed for battlefield diagnosis of biological agents, had been used successfully in FMD outbreaks elsewhere in the world but in the UK, was turned down in favour of 'carnage by computer'. But a British version developed by an offshoot of the MoD Porton Down - Enigma Diagnostics - was on the drawing board, and we've touched on that in the post "2005 - A Good Idea".
Both the Shadow agriculture minister Owen Paterson MP, and the National Beef Association are keen to incorporate the PCR in Tb strategy.
Now fast forward to April 1st 2005, when Defra began to:
"Assess research applications for projects, which will conduct a reveiew of all current PCR assays available for Mycobacterium Tuberculosis complex identification and assess their cost / benefit analysis for incorporation into routine Tb testing".
But they are " not currently conducting research using portable PCR laboratories for the detection of Tb in badgers. But recent collaboration bewteen VLA and Enigma Diagnostics is evaluating a prototype machine for detecting BVD and FMD, and there are plans to evaluate it for use in detecting m.bovis in the field - in the future".
No urgency then?
Our comments on these little gems are as follows:
* As the Blair / Bush relationship is so close at the moment, instead of looking to Iraq, look to Michigan where the 'assessment' described above was being used in 2001. Michigan were using PCR to speed up diagnosis of cattle Tb lesions ahead of laboratory diagnosis 4 years ago.
*In 2005, we understand they have developed the technology for use in the environment - ie. further than a candidate host which in the wild, may be difficult to capture. . www.maes.msu.edu/articles/bovine2005.pdf
*Defra will look at 'all current assays'. Does the word 'all' inlude technology beyond the UK?
When technology is available which will add to knowledge and speed up clearance of targetted sources of Tb, the bland, woolly phrases used by Defra could be seen as further evidence of Ministerial inertia.
Could the 'special relationship' (or unholy alliance - depending on your point of view) which saw us invade Iraq holding tightly to the hand of George Bush, extend to a sharing of technological achievements in the field of infectious disease control?
We hope so.