Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"A Landmark judgement.."

".. in the history of religious worship in the UK".

So said the Hindu forum of Britain's spokesman, Ramesh Kallidai after the ruling by the High Court in Cardiff yesterday, which quashed the slaughter notice issued by the Welsh Assembly on 'Shambo' the bullock who tested positive for bTb.

Tuberculosis is very serious zoonosis, unmoved by religious derogations, Hindu or otherwise. And from the viewpoint of those of us who have religiously (forgive the pun) obeyed OIE and European health directives, rigorously implemented by our own Ministry, yesterday's verdict was a slap in the face - if not a bullet - for every Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist or Non-conformist cow slaughtered on the alter of political expediency over the last several years.

The verdict appears to have hinged on the Hindu right to 'manifest' its religious beliefs under the European Convention of Human rights. The Welsh Assembly have launched an appeal and the case will be heard in London on Friday.

Story here

A comment from virologist Dr. Ruth Watkins, herself a farmer in a Tb hotspot, originally posted on www.warmwell.com we add below:

The option Skanda Vale have chosen is the difficult long and expensive path. This is in contrast to culling and taking the money.
Further testing for infection in Shambo, and perhaps in some at least of the other bovines, must be done in the USA if not also in the UK, and paid for. Treatment will cost at least £5000 (treating an elephant was $40000 in 2005) Treatment will require the supervision of experienced vets, perhaps distantly from the elephant and other zoo treatment schemes, as well as a vet in the UK.

Selection of drugs (at least three different antibiotics) will need to be carefully made and Shambo monitored for drug toxicity and drug levels. Treatment will probably have to be for 9 months.

It is our understanding that the cocktail of drugs for the synergistic treatment of Tb are among the very few not licensed for animal use - or not in the UK. The side effects of the human antibiotics are so severe that we have been told patients are encouraged to complete their long course by payments. If further testing involves the use of PCR, American or otherwise, that is the least of Skanda Vale's worries. More urgent is the need to persuade Defra / Welsh Assembly / Imperial College to release the assay needed to fuel the thing.
We too wondered about the elephant. Diagnosis? How? Treatment?

Shambo will be kept in isolation, more remote than his current temple, and require the attention of the monks every day for drug dosing, and general care.

After treatment he should be able to rejoin his herd fellows, the bachelor group. What is the source of his infection? Are there other cases in the cattle herd at the monastery? These questions may need an answer.

It is our understanding that a further herd test revealed 5 more animals with inconclusive test results. However, in a press release last week, the Welsh Assembly intimated that IF severe interpretation had been applied to this test, that would ratchet up to 2 more reactors and another bunch of inconclusives. After contact from the Skandavale community, we were happy to put the record straight. See here .
From personal experience, the disease situation at Skandavale appears to 'amplifying' (in Defra speak) rather than resolving. Further tests will confirm.

Provided testing does not harm Shambo the monks I understand would be willing to allow testing to benefit science, and continue testing for TB on Shambo throughout his treatment which is likely to be recommended anyway based on the model of treating elephants.

Human patients of the prolonged and particularly nasty cocktail of antibiotics, often do not complete their courses, as we have said before, and have to be 'encouraged' with cash. This prolonged course of treatment may benefit science - or not - but at what cost to Shambo? It is our understanding of the disease, that provided lesions have not formed, then a prolonged antibiotic regime may work. However if they have formed, only surgery will remove them. Otherwise the nature of tuberculosis is that such lesions 'wall up', lying dormant often for decades, but breaking down into full blown disease when the body is subject to stress or other disease challenges. All this is known and acted on already.

I believe finally whenever Shambo dies a detailed post mortem and specimens for culture should be done, as on elephants, to determine the success of treatment.

Dr. Watkins concludes:

As a small farmer myself on annual TB skin testing in my parish (the occurrence of TB in this part of Carmarthenshire is recent in the last few years) if my favourite and glorious bull Arthur was skin test positive I could not afford or accomplish the above. He would have to be culled. Indeed as a trading farmer and one who receives the single farm payment (unlike the monks who have never received any state payments) I must abide by the current rules even if I think the policy could and should be improved (as most other farmers feel as well) Reprieving Shambo does not give a licence for treating commercial farm animals. Really the monastery is a hospice for animals, just as it provides hospice care for humans. Any animal on the monastery is not in contact with other farm animals ever again and no animal products are given or sold to the public.

Fair point, but where did the original m.bovis infection come from? Shambo was Inconclusive last year, but resolved on a retest. This year he did not, and now a further 5 - 7 animals are invloved.

The risk of being infected from bovine TB being shed on the breath of an infected and shedding bovine is very small- exactly how small is not known.

This is absolutely true, and the recently published pathogenisis report SE3013 confirms it. Of 1006 mucosal samples taken from 200 reactor animals and 200 'in contact' animals from farms suffering prolonged Tb breakdowns, and this after a 2 hour postmortem on each, ALL were negative. The ISG report refers to the 32 animals found to have visible lung lesions, but omits to point out that samples taken from them and the other 358, were negative for onward transmission.

Removing Shambo will have no impact on bovine TB infection. Indeed the infected badgers, deer, other animals and undisclosed bovine animals on farms continue to live, move about freely - or not quite so freely if farm animals. Our problem with bovine TB in the UK remains as bad as ever despite our testing and culling of cattle (largely by the skin test). We need some fresh thinking on the issue and a more holistic solution.

With thanks to www.warmwell.com


The appeal against the Wesh Assembly's notice of slaughter on this animal was held in London on Friday, and Monday the court delivered their

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