Saturday, December 19, 2009

Alpacas - TB Awareness meetings.

In response to the increasing number of alpaca herds (puntas) affected by the inappropriately mis-named 'bovine' TB, the BAS (British Alpaca Society) is hosting a series of meetings during January and February 2010, entitled 'TB Awareness'.
These will be presented by BVCS vet Gina Bromage, M.A.,VetM.B.,D.V.M.,M.R.C.V.S , with an introduction from the chairman of the BAS, Mike Birch.

The meetings are open to all and there is no pre-booking or entry fee. Veterinary attendees would be most welcome, as would cattle farmers and anyone else interested in bTB transmission.

Venue are across the country, with details here.

The owners of alpacas in the two cases which we linked to in this post, have between them lost over 40 animals to confirmed bTb. A handful of other herds can account for well over 100 animals, all clinically confirmed during 2009, but not necessarily voluntarily slaughtered as the result of either a skin or blood test and thus accompanied by 'compensation'. Neither have all these TB casualties been culture sampled, as once bTB is 'confirmed' in a herd, to keep lobbing samples to VLA for confirmation of visible disease is deemed a waste of resources. They have been postmortemed by vets, whose findings should have been passed up the line to AHOs.

Thus the figure quoted on the Defra website of '38' alpacas and '2' llamas 'screened' during the period January - September 2009, with '18' infected alpacas and '0' infected llamas proving positive for bTB, would seem to us to be a considerable underestimate - or as it's Christmas and we are being generous, both vets and local AHO offices ane dragging their collective heels over reporting their area bTB positive camelid findings.

Defra's explanatory notes, once one has located the obligatory magnifying glass with which to read them, point out that the collated data, only refers to 'notified suspect and clinical postmortem' cases of bTB during the reporting period, thus passing the buck back to the aforementioned vets and AHOs..

At the moment we'll give Defra's statisticians the benefit of the doubt and hope 'pending' cases will catch up; but we sincerely hope that this published data is not case of managing statistics, rather than managing the problem.

(Update: Thanks to eagle eyed blog watchers for amendments to screened figures. Even with a magnifying glass - we got the lines muddled. The post is now correct to Defra's miniscule data - if not to dead alpacas. )

Friday, December 11, 2009

Definition - 'Maintenance'.

It has become apparent over recent months that a great many misconceptions - some originating in the top echelons of Defra - have been dribbled out to a gullible audience, unchallenged. The description 'maintenance' reservoir for instance, appears to have been atttached umbilically both to badgers as a source of bTB - and also cattle in equal measure. This is not so.

A dictionary definition of the word is 'capable of maintaining', 'cause to continue', 'retain in being' and 'preserve intact'. You get the picture? Badgers (unfortunately for them) tick all the boxes which allow this very accurate description to be applied.

Research over many years has found that they can maintain body weight, bear and rear young, in fact survive quite happily, while intermittantly shedding bTB. In the latter stages of the disease, the body is overwhelmed by disease and they are excluded from their groups, ranging further, scrapping and fighting for territory, and hiding up in shallow, single hole setts, often close to farm buildings and an easy food supply.

At this stage and possibly before, depending on the site of lesions, their ability to transmit disease is phenomenal, with up to 300,000 units of bacteria available in just 1ml of urine. 30 ml is dribbled at each void or used for scent marking, and just 70 units is needed to infect any cow who sniffs it. And while cattle will usually avoid faecal contamination, there is less chance for them to avoid urine. Pus dropping from open abcesses (see pic.) is also an opportunity for disease transmission. The amount of bacteria in badger lesions is huge.(All this is archived in the PQs which form the base of this site.)

So what of cattle? If they are left untested, and fulminating disease, then of course any TB would spread. And in the 1930s and 40s it did. But after the TB eradication process in the 1950s and 60s, using test and slaughter, this country - like many others - had all but eradicated TB. Numbers of reactors dropped to a very low level, with just an isolated animal expected to turn up at slaughter with aged, walled up lesions. The exceptions were two 'hotspots'. One in Glos and the other in SW Cornwall where test / slaughter failed to clear the problem - even with whole herd slaughter, cohort slaughter and all the rest of the cattle-only-tools. We explained this in our posting here - a posting which was compiled for us, by Divisional Veterinary Managers who had overseen this eradication process.

Cattle lesions are not particularly laden with bacteria, in fact scientists have explained to us that they "could look for half an hour" before finding a single bacteria on culture slides. Conversely the pink stained badger excretions "were jumping off the slide" and visible without the need of a microscope. Thus in the field, cattle to cattle transmission is difficult and happens over a long time scale. A fact born out by the Pathman project which found no samples taken from salami sliced reactor cattle over a long time frame, to be capable of onwards transmission.

So we go back to our Parliamentary Questions - and more particularly their Answers, where on 30th January 2004, Col 540W [150492] baby-Ben Bradshaw replied:
"All countries that have either eradicated or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test"

of which the 'comparable intradermal' version is used in the UK, and its efficacy?:
28th January 2004 Col 382W [150495] "... on standard interpretation, provides sensitivety between in the range 68 to 95 per cent and specificity in the range 96 - 99 per cent."
Thus on regularly tested herds (and ours has had 60 day tests for way too long) - the top end of 90 per cent is as good as it gets. The junior Minister also mentioned that "In the abscence of a wild life reservoir ", all countries operating this test and slaughter policy had eradicated or were a way down the road to eradicating bTB completely. How would that be possible, if cattle were indeed a 'maintenance reservoir' of this disease? Or is our UK bTB bacteria different from anywhere else in the world? (We are aware it has acquired a 'political' DNA appendage - but let that pass....)

The Minister also told us that after the badger clearance at Thornbury, and smaller trials in Steeple Lees, Hartland and East Offaly, cattle TB had reduced significantly or in the case of Thornbury - disappeared altogther for at least ten years, with 'no other contemporaneous action' involved, other a clearance of infected badgers. How could that be, if cattle were 'maintaining the disease?

In a regularly tested cattle population, with reactors removed promptly, cattle do not 'maintain' TB. And when the unfettered, free ranging 'maintenance' reservoir of infection is controlled or removed, TB disappears from cattle populations completely. Once again we are grateful, for permission to reproduce the chart below, painstakingly compiled by AHOs in the SW, showing their professional risk assessments for cattle breakdowns. And as you can see - cattle are not the problem. The vast majority of cattle breakdowns were attributed to badgers.

The description 'maintenance' when applied to cattle TB, is not born out by past experiences both in this country or more especially in others where no wildlife reservoir exists, (or if it does present problems, it is controlled in parallel).

Thus, in our opinion, it is at best misleading and at worst duplicitous to describe cattle as a 'maintenance reservoir' of bTB - unless of course that description refers to the largesse associated with pensions and employment generated by its continued and increasing presence.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One man's story .....

Today, we share the diary of one small alpaca herd, hit by bTB earlier this year.

The owner will remain anonymous - for the time being - but his location is within a midlands bTB hotspot, where over half (55 per cent) of badgers captured during BROs in the decade prior to 1997, proved positive for bTB.

The property has massive badger activity and was once home to over 50 alpacas. The herd (punta) comprised mainly females and 10 males with nothing purchased in for over a year, but animals sold. bTB was confirmed in September this year, but three months prior to this the owner had treated a male with Orchiditis. This animal failed to respond to treatment, and died. The carcass was collected by the local hunt. No samples were taken. (This male is not included in figures of losses from the herd)

September 2009
During routine husbandry, a female was found to be underweight. Veterinary advice was sought, and this female and another were treated with antibiotics, and had blood screens for various other disease - all of which proved negative. One female died and a PM carried was out on farm. The vet recognised TB lesions and took the carcass to VLA Luddington for further investigation.
TB confirmed on PM. This female had a 5 week old cria.

The herd was put under official TB restriction by AH and the owner informed the British Alpaca society (BAS) of confirmed bTB.

October 2009
The cria from the first female loss is now 7 weeks old and very ill. She had died by the time the vet arrived to euthanize: vet euthanized another female, which was showing slight weight loss but was frothing at the mouth. Postmortems showed lung and liver abscesses respectively. The adult female suffered a ruptured lung abscess. Samples sent for culture.
Oct 5th 2009. First skin test on herd.
Oct 7th 2009 One female aborted.
Oct 8th 2009 Skin test results read: one positive Female. All other animals clear.
Although showing no symptoms, the skin test positive female was culled and was positive on postmortem. She has a 4 month old male cria.

October 14th. Vet called to examine two females which were negative on the skin test reading the previous week. This AHO told the owner that in her opinion these two alpaca were reactors as there is a swelling on the bovine injection site 6 days after the 'official ' 72 hour reading. ( This was not the same AHO who read the skin test on Oct 9th : protocol for alpaca skin tests indicates the reading should be at 'severe interpretation'; i.e a 2mm rise only for camelids.)

Oct 16th 2009
A male alpaca was suddenly taken very ill. He was unable to get up and appeared in pain. He had no weight loss, and at the time of death (euthansed) weighed 92 kg. He was put down by AHO and taken to VLA Luddington.

October 21st.
AHO suggest euthanasia for the two females seen on 14th October, and recommend 'monitoring' the herd, by weighing them on a regular basis and reporting any weight loss to AHO. The owner notices another female is coughing and reports this to AHO.

October 27th. Rapid Stat Pak blood test carried out on four animals. The owner has agreed (verbally) to slaughter if they are positive. No paperwork issued. All the bloods are positive.

November 2009
AHO culled the four blood test positives. All had TB confirmed on postmortem.
As TB has been confirmed in all the animals euthanized by local AHO, the owner is now offered a blood test on his entire herd - or what remains of it..
November 17th /18th 2009. Remaining 44 alpacas blood tested with Rapid Stat Pak and Gamma Interferon IG .

12 females failed both blood tests.(inc one 4 month cria)

14 fell into what the AH Officer called a 'Grey area' - in other words failed one blood test but passed the other.
Owner advised to isolate these animals, and watch for symptoms.

14 Tested negative on both tests

4 animals failed to give a sample suitable for gammaIFN screen..

Nov 25th: All 12 animals which were positive to both tests, plus one other showing symptoms were culled.(2 were taken to VLA Luddington the other 11 were PMd at a slaughter house by vets.) All showed lesions of TB.

LOSSES TO DATE : 22 alpacas. Spoligotype is confirmed as VLA 17, which is the strain of TB indigenous to the area. It is found in badgers and tested, slaughtered reactor cattle. AHO visits to discuss the 14 animals which fell into ‘grey’ areas of the blood tests, and the 4 which had given samples not suitable for screening.
To date, the owner has had no contact from the Health Protection Agencies, to offer screening for human contacts of these animals and is advised by AHO to contact her GP.
November 28th: HPA visit and are arranging for X Rays.

December 2009
AHO suggested they take the 'grey area' animals in pairs, starting with those who are either showing signs of illness, or have failed the Gamma IFN blood test.

They begin with 8 animals who had failed the GammaIFN test. All were positive for Tb on PM.

Losses to date 30 - all confirmed TB.
AHO ask to take the entire herd as owner has now lost over half the animals.

This small herd has 22 alpaca left out of 52 animals.
All but one had passed the intradermal skin test in early October.
A male sold from the farm in July has died and PM has confirmed TB. Despite the owner and BAS providing AH with contacts in October – a trace on this sale had not been followed up.
Dec 6th Owner has agreed to let AH take another 5 animals.

The remaining animals testing negative on both blood tests, will be monitired by AHO at 2, 4 and 6 monthly intervals.
The 4 alpaca which gave samples not capable of screen, will be retested.

Losses to date: 30, with 5 booked to go.
To be continued.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We failed ....

All summer, several contributers to this site have been trying valiantly to collate the figures for the cost to the taxpayer, of testing and removal of bTB positives to the skin test and other assorted toys. While numbers of animals slaughtered are available on the Defra website, (and our trend graphs show just where cattle numbers are likely to be by 2014) other associated costs are not so transparent. So after a lonely trawl, a few Parliamentary Questions were lobbed in the general direction of Hilary Benn, Minister of State for (some) Animal's Health - and his henchmen.

The reason for this is simple. After worshipping the moneylenders, UK plc is broke. And in 2006 a short term fixing tape in the form of tabular valuation was introduced to reduce 'farmers' share of the TB largesse. But within three years, sheer numbers of reactors had outstripped any fiscal advantage. So in the absence of any change of policy, and to go with our trend line graph of the numbers of cattle Defra can expect to cope with, we had intended producing a graph illustrating the sheer bloody waste of money, cost of all this prevarication to the long suffering taxpayer, already reeling under the laxative of 'quantitative easing' to protect the financial sector.

And therein lies is a problem. Answers to our pointed questions, repeated when we really did not believe what we were reading, explained - patiently it has to be said - that 'Compensation' included many other expenses other than monies paid to farmers for reactor cattle. Aye?? That was a surprise - and it takes a lot to surprise us. Such cynicism comes with years of practise, but we digress..

The less-than-transparent figure for 'Compensation' also includes species other than cattle - and there have been a few of those with numbers climbing: "Payments for non-bovine species are included in the total compensation figure for England." Then the writer explained that they were:
" ... unable to pull out an exact figure as our records are not kept in that way. Prior to 2006/07 minimal compensation was paid for other species. Over 2006/07 and 2007/08 a more substantial amount of money was paid out (though under £1million) for camelids."
So the llama and alpaca casualties of 2007, were funded at 'less than £1million? That's like a supermarket offering goods at £99.99 and saying they were 'under £100'. And as the numbers were quite modest, they were expensive lawnmowers then?

As 'other species' are included in the total sum, a straight simple division into the amount paid as 'compensation' by the number of cattle reactors, would not be in any way correct. But it gets worse.

Although veterinary testing costs are collated separately (and in the last couple of years have outstripped 'compensation') we had not realised that the 'accounting' system which Defra operate also bundles all costs of removing the reactor from the farm, getting it through the abattoir and its eventual disposal into that one misleading total.

The minister of State was asked for the costs of:
(a) compensation paid directly to farmers for removal of animals, (b) veterinary tuberculin testing, (c) haulage for removal of animals, (d) abattoir and official veterinary surgeon services in respect of slaughter, (e) on-farm slaughter, (f) disposal and incineration and (g) valuation fees was in respect of the implementation of statutory testing and slaughter under bovine tuberculosis regulations of (i) cattle classed as bovine tuberculosis reactors, inconclusives or dangerous contact animals and (ii) all other mammals (A) between 1986 and 1996 and (B) since 1997. [293860]

Jim Fitzpatrick answered and confirmed an answer which we had already gleaned: that the figure euphemistically labelled 'Compensation' and which is generally accepted as being lobbbed into cattle farmer's pockets, included haulage, valuers fees, disposal of parts not wanted in the food chain - but was net of 'salvage'. Further questions elicited the following reply as to the cost of slaughter v. sales of meat:
Jim Fitzpatrick: No such estimate has been made. For most cattle compulsorily slaughtered on TB control grounds, DEFRA has received a net payment from abattoirs rather than incurred a cost. Meat Hygiene Service officials inspect carcasses of such cattle when slaughtered in licensed abattoirs, a small proportion of TB affected cattle are condemned as unfit for human consumption e.g. if TB lesions are identified in more than one part of the carcase. In such cases DEFRA does makes a payment to the abattoir to cover its disposal costs. It is not possible to provide details of slaughter costs in the form requested: typically an abattoir will receive batches of cattle being slaughtered on disease control grounds rather than single animals—if one (or more) of these animals is condemned, the cost to DEFRA will be offset by the total salvage value received from those passed as fit for human consumption.
So there we have it. A less than transparent method of calculating costs, the general public (and farmers themselves) assuming, quite wrongly, that the published figures for 'Compensation' relate to farmers, when in fact they include many other costs as well. And from abattoirs, no separate credit / debit balances, merely a net figure which was £4.3m last year, for the difference between what they charge Defra for putting cattle through the slaughter line, and the monies obtained for the carcasses. We would say Defra's cost control is as lacking as any effort to stem the tide of infection from a name they dare not speak..

A very rough guide to TB costs, is on the Defra website.
And to really confuse, figures for 'cattle slaughtered' are on a calandar basis (January - December), while associated costs relate to a 'financial year' (March - April)

You really couldn't make it up.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A TB test on 'Countryfile'

See a reasonable overview of the frustration and waste of the non-policy which passes for bTB eradication in this country, on last weekend's episide of the BBC's COUNTRYFILE. Some beautiful in calf holstein heifers, loaded up for slaughter on a nearby dairy farm, with the added comment that over 200 black and white bull calves had been destroyed at birth over this two year herd restriction.

Then a snapshot of a six month 'short interval' herd test on Adam Henson's various rare breed beef stock, revealed four reactors within various groups of cattle roaming 1600 acres. A smart in calf Gloucester cow, and three youngsters including a very scarce White Park calf - a breed which is getting dangerously low in numbers.

If we are being pedantic, it would have been more honest of the BBC to allow Adam the airtime to explain that such a six month SI test follows a period of herd restriction due to a previous bTB breakdown. Thus his euphoria in the early summer, when the programme showed his clear TB test (and thus his ability to trade his stock with pride) was the expected emotional response, when for some little time 'Adam's farm' had been under continuous TB restriction, 60 testing and slaughter. And the further wasting of taxpayers' money..

In the interests of balance, we confidently expect a clip of Oddie / Kidner et al kissing small badgers in a follow up film. And a lot of hot air about vaccinating badgers infected with tuberculosis in hotspot areas such as this, with BCG. Which can be expected to create more jobs, buy more time, solve the TB problem overnight - at least in the eyes of a naive and misinformed public.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A parallel?

We have mentioned PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology many times and will continue to do so. But reading again correspondence from Dr. Roger Breeze, formerly of the US Plum Island facility and a developer of PCR, rang more than a few bells.

The jobs dependent on keeping this stunning technology firmly in its box, are described by Dr. Breeze in this mail of 2007 when he was pioneering RT-PCR as a fast diagnostic tool for controlling FMD:
"FMD diagnostic technology of the late 20th century depended upon tests that involved live virus or reagents to perform the tests that were derived from live virus and thus were confined to biological safety level 3 (BSL 3) diagnostic laboratories for biological safety reasons to prevent accidental escape of live virus contaminating the reagents (no one bothered to safety test the reagents to show there was no live virus contaminant so they could be moved out of biological containment). These tests could have been moved out of BSL3 labs like Pirbright or Plum Island but there was no incentive: APHIS were the only ones who would use them in the US, they had them in BSL3 at Plum and did not want to move them out to the mainland."
There is a parallel here with the control Defra exercise over the reagent DNA assay from m.bovis which is also a Grade 3 (BSL3) pathogen. Dr. Breeze explains how PCR development was stymied by this self interest group, dedicated to blocking progress:
"The world of diagnostics was a small and traditional club in which people talked only to each other in a circle of mutual assurance and mutual congratulation. There was certainly an element of job protection in this internationally in that these were labs that governments could not easily privatize - nor could governments transfer the test reagents to private companies outside the physical limits of the BSL 3 labs. Reviews of one country's capability were performed by club members from other countries. The idea that these labs might all use the same tests and reagents prepared for the group was unthinkable.

We have heard from top officials in Defra that PCR technology 'will never be used in bTB diagnostics'. And one may be entitled to ask, why not? In whose interest is it to keep this disease circulating, its casualties increasing and becoming more varied by the day?
Dr. Breeze explains how PCR broke up 'this cosy arrangement':
Development and testing of PCR tests would not have been possible without people knowledgeable of FMD etc and with access to viruses in BSL 3 - there is clearly a continuing vital need for BSL 3 national facilities and skilled foreign animal disease scientists, it's just that the diagnostic role of central government labs has changed from test performance to quality control and quality assurance of a distributed system of laboratories that can respond very quickly.

Many FMD viruses representative of all 7 serotypes were genetically sequenced by Dan Rock's team at Plum Island and the sequence information was transmitted electronically to Tetracore in Maryland. Rock and Tetracore worked together to compare the complete sequences of many different viruses simultaneously to find regions of the sequence that were identical between all the different viruses - these common regions would be targets for PCR tests. Tetracore have some proprietary software that eases this comparison. Having identified likely targets, Tetracore made reagents to these targets and Rock tested these with real viruses at Plum Island. From this, the ARS Tetracore FMD PCR test was developed, and this did not require any materials that had ever been in contact with live viruses.."

Thus with a degree of co-operation between the people who held live assay, the PCR manufacturers enabled a PCR assay to be developed which did not depend on live components and as such was not subject to 'scientists' defending territory or playing politics.
The key factor was that electronic information was sent to Tetracore from Plum Island - this information did not require an APHIS permit. The reagents were made without BSL 3 containment off Plum Island and sent back for testing. Certainly, had it been necessary to send any piece of the virus or any reagent derived from virus to Tetracore, APHIS would have denied a permit to do this and this generation of tests would not be available today. But the computer technology of sequence and transmission over the Internet overcame the longstanding APHIS barrier ."
We have said many times and will continue to say, that this technology has more than a small place in bTB diagnostics. Whether that is to speed up positive diagnosis in cattle lesions after slaughter (as the US were doing 8 years ago), supporting positive identification of bait marked infected badger setts, or refining the blunt instruments of less than specific current diagnostic tests, ahead of slaughter.

For many of the cattle, farmed deer, alpacas and other animals now suffering continuous testing and slaughter, the wildlife reservoir now awash with infection and its inevitable spill over victims, that day cannot come a moment too soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Our' terrier, becomes official.

In June we received a sorry tale of a little Patterdale terrier, who was found doing what terriers do and mauling an almost-dead and decidedly manky badger. This resulted in wounds to his nose and his eventual death from 'bovine' Tb. ( Please note: the Patterdale in the pic, is for illustration only, and is not the terrier in question. Patterdales are described as 'feisty and fearless' and used for 'hunting vermin'.)

Our terrier's story and that of two other dogs recently positively diagnosed with bTB, is now told by VLA staff and veterinary surgeons attending the animals, and is published in this week's Veterinary Record.
We would like to report on three recent cases of tuberculosis (TB) in dogs caused by Mycobacterium bovis, following bites from wildlife.
The most recent case concerned a healthy seven-year-old pet/working, male entire Patterdale terrier that went rabbit hunting in March 2009 in an area of Worcestershire recognised as a hot spot of bovine TB. The dog went missing and was found chewing the neck of a very thin, moribund badger. The terrier had incurred multiple bite wounds on and around its muzzle during the fight with the badger. The badger carcase was not examined. At the time the private veterinary surgeon alerted the dog's owners to the risk of TB, especially because there was a young child in the household. Antibiotics were prescribed to treat the bite wounds on the terrier's muzzle. After several weeks the dog became listless, weak and started showing respiratory signs and weight loss despite a good appetite. These clinical signs became progressively worse, and on advice from the vet the dog was euthanased in early June. Postmortem examination showed multiple granulomatous lesions in the lungs, pleura, liver, kidneys and lymph nodes.
The paper describes how cultures from affected organs were positive for SBO263 (VLA type 17) which is the predominant molecular type in the area where the terrier lived, and where the badger was found.

The second case is that of a Jack Russell terrier, who lived in inner city Glasgow and had a close encounter with a squirrel. This little chap was luckier than the Patterdale, and after treatment, has appeared to recover. The spoligotype isolated in 2008 after a biopsy on a non healing lesion, was Type SBO140 or VLA 9. Scottish VLA staff comment thus, on the strain type and their findings:
This was unexpected because the dog lived in Glasgow, an inner-city area with a very low historical incidence of bovine TB and had no reported contact with any livestock. The dog had reportedly not travelled to an area with endemic bovine TB infection. The skin lesion eventually healed and the dog returned to apparent good health
. The third case detailed in Vet. Record occurred in 2007 in Wales, where a three-year-old terrier was suspected of being bitten by a fox or badger while hunting.
He developed nodular, calcified, hugely enlarged submandibular lymph nodes. The bite wounds did not heal despite treatment. The dog was euthanased and M bovis spoligotype SB0140 (VLA type 9b) was isolated from one of the lymph nodes that showed granulomatous lesions with acid-fast bacteria.
The authors of the paper indicate that "in all three cases the local Animal Health office and local public health authorities were notified and health and safety advice was given to the dogs' owners". Although in the case of the Patterdale, we understand that this was sketchy and slow, especially as there was a child involved who had had close contact with the dog.

The authors also comment that in all three of these documented cases, there was no known contact with cattle or other livestock. And they mention increasing numbers of cats, dogs, South American camelids and goats as spill-over hosts of 'bovine' TB.

They conclude with an observation about TB in domestic pets in general, and cats in particular :
In cats, many cases of confirmed M bovis infection involve lesions in the skin or superficial lymph nodes, suggesting a cutaneous route of infection. As with these three canine cases, some of the owners of M bovis-infected cats have reported that infection followed a bite by native wildlife.
And finally, a plea to their fellow veterinarians, who may be unaware of the extent of environmental' 'bovine' TB pollution to which any mammal is suceptible:
We would like to raise awareness among small animal practitioners to include M bovis infection in the differential diagnosis of bite wounds that are unresponsive to antimicrobial treatment, develop nodular lesions and associated lymphadenopathy and/or cases of general undiagnosed malaise where there is a history of bite wounds. Undiagnosed TB in pets poses a particular zoonotic risk due to the often close contact between these animals and their owners and family.
We understand that Defra have approved this article ahead of publication. It is to be hoped that the implications set out in it, are clear to them as well.

The authors of the paper are : G.M van der Burgh,(VLA Luddington, Warwicks.,) T Crawshaw,(VLA Starcross, Devon.) A.P Foster,(VLA Shrewsbury. ) D.J.B. Denny,(B.VET.MED. MRCVS, Worcester.) and A.Shock, (VLA Lasswade,International Research Centre, Midlothian, )

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alpacas - TB inter herd spread.

It was only a matter of time before 'bovine' TB, now entrenched in a well protected but exploding population of badgers, spilled into non-bovine species. And if our Minister for (some) Animals' Health does not turn a hair at the slaughter of thousands of cattle annually, he may just have a fight on his hands with owners of some extremely highly valued alpacas, which when they do contract TB, appear to be more than capable of spreading it between themselves.

We have returned to this subject several times since the first alert in November 2007, after a west country llama farm was decimated by disease. The case was later described in the Veterinary Record, from which we quoted in this posting. Today we received data from another alpaca stud, with a similar story to that of the Devon breeder whose females returned from stud in Sussex, carrying a Shropshire strain of TB, from which they subsequently died.

A Gloucestershire breeder has sent us the following snapshot of his experiences. His story started in early September, after visiting shows with 3 young stud males during the summer. No other disease problems were found throughout intense veterinary investigation; but within a week, three of these animals were having breathing difficulties and had measurable weight loss. Wide spectrum antibiotics failed to give results. By mid September the first casualty was euthanased and his post mortem revealed lesions on lungs and liver. Two weeks later, a second alpaca died with similar post mortem results and the third was euthanased, again with the same pm results.

The owner takes up the story:
My spoligotype has been confirmed as type 10. My Defra veterinary officer has confirmed that there have been no type 10 outbreaks near to me, which confirms their and Animal Health's initial suspicions that my herd had contracted this disease at a show. All of the three initial cases were in my junior male show team.
But as has become apparent with other cases of alpacas with bTB, inter-herd spread, often before owners have a clue what is going on, had already begun:
We lost a 40 month adult female recently (she had been in the paddock alongside the junior males for some months. As is the way with these things, she is also a show winning alpaca). I currently have three others in isolation. Two other junior males and the 12 week old cria of the dead female.
The veterinary attention these animals have been offered (banned in the case of cattle) extends to specific anti-tuberculosis drugs, used in the treatment of humans:

One of the boys appears to have responded well to Isoniazid (anti-tuberculin drug) and is back to normal weight and breathing normally. Balthazar, a multi show winning grey male, is the most recent to go into isolation and is now on Isoniazid. The drug isn't cheap but, since I was offered £8,000 for him I'm not giving up - apart from the value, I had hoped to keep him as a member of my stud team. Oriel, the cria, seems okay at the moment but, as his mother died of bTB there's a reasonable chance he could get it.

Alpaca owners have lobbed a string of correspondence in the direction of Defra's window-box over their problems with camelids. And the frustration of owners of animals infected with this devastating disease when they are met with little advice, no support and condescending pre-programmed platitudes, only increases their anger.

Like the Devon animals, (who contracted Shropshire strain 35 TB from a visiting female while in Sussex), this alpaca owner has delved into the source of his outbreak. As he points out, no alpaca has presented to VLA at this time, exhibiting Type 10 bTB. This is unlike the Devon case, where although the Shropshire female died at stud, another animal from the Shropshire farm did subsequently come within Defra's radar. He explains:
Some alpaca studs have dozens of these visiting females - so you can see the potential for spreading bTB and other diseases/parasites to the four corners of the country. As far as I have been able to find out, there is no other alpaca stud/farm with spoligotype 10 known to Defra. This makes one think that there has to be someone out there that has had animals die but, has not had any post-mortemed. Given the attitude of some of the larger commercial breeders to the bTB issue and to those of us that are making a "fuss", they probably don't want to find out as it would be too damaging to their businesses. However, if left to fester, none of them (whether currently infected herds or not) will have a business left within a couple of years.
Quite. TB in camelids is a killer, and although the intradermal skin test is regarded as the primary test for camelids, even on the recommended 'severe' interpretation, it is not doing the job. Figures of less than 20% accuracy have been bandied about and a member of the BAS board has told members that only 6 alpacas have tested positive using it. This although members of the society themselves can account for in excess of 100 animals dead from TB in the last few months.

The blood test has been flagged up as a possible ancillary ante mortem test, but veterinary practitioners experienced in the care and treatment of these animals say that interpretation of the test is not solid enough. This alpaca owner has been told that
" the only way I can be sure that my herd is free of bTB is to use the blood test, but I should be prepared to lose 4 or 5 healthy animals for every one that is genuinely infected."

He concludes: "For obvious reasons, this cannot be regarded as a satisfactory solution - especially as the Government will only pay £750 per alpaca (if they pay at all)".

This is a very sobering tale, running parallel to the experiences of many other camelid breeders across the country, and beyond. If Defra continue to bury their heads in the sand, this country runs a very real risk of establishing a second, unchecked reservoir of disease - if it hasn't done so already.

Accurate testing for any disease is vital. And if the skin test is failing camelids, and blood tests are failing them as well, why not dredge up Defra's most unfavourite toy, now widely used in the diagnostics of many other diseases in most countries - except TB in the UK of course; PCR? Just a thought....

Our grateful thanks to the owners of these beautiful animals for sharing their story - so far.....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Protocol for Camelids - or not... ?

As we have pointed out, Defra's policy of dealing with bTB in non-bovine species is non-statutory. But with the urgency of a dormouse on vallium, Defra offer a few explanatory guidelines, which for alpaca owners and veterinary staff involved with these creatures, may have avoided some confusion.

Defra have no 'right of entry' into camelid premises so unless bTB has been confirmed, are admitted by invitation only. Movement restrictions may then be served, but protocol appears to vary depending on which civil service 'ROD', (Regional Operations Director) is reading which Defra bible and from which area. Some RODs are more equal than others, handing out instructions to highly trained veterinary staff in a fairly arbitary manner, and not necessarily agreeing with 'ROD' in the next patch. Why would they? They have territories jobs to defend. An example of this mish-mash of non-policy, is the use of the blood test on alpacas. While some RODs apparently allow just visibly unwell animals to be tested, others insist on whole herd screening. This test will never be 'validated' and its correct sensitivety / specificity established if it is directed at animals likely to be positive for bTB on ante mortem observations. Conversely, to expect alpaca owners, who regard their animals as pets, to slaughter all positives immediately is optimistic. Isolation and monitoring, combined with other antemortem screens may give a more solid picture of disease status.

Nobody wants animals with rampant tuberculosis left to fester, (except the badger groups) However the slaughter of three alpaca last week, which had been in isolation for four months found just one positive for TB on post mortem. For the other two extremely healthy animals, their cause of death could have been logged as 'gunshot wound to the head'.

Brief Defra guidelines for 'non-bovine species', have been available since early summer - at least. However they will not help the two alpaca in the photo.

Both are now dead.

Defra documents are written in civil service-ese which is neither easy to navigate, understand or interpret. Here is a taste:
10.2 As with other non-bovine species, there is at present little legislation underpinning the control of TB incidents in camelids in Great Britain, apart from the general power in the TB Orders to isolate and restrict movements of any affected and in-contact animals. There is no requirement to identify camelids or record their movements. DVMs or Local Authorities have no legal powers to enforce tuberculin testing of camelids and slaughter any reactors. Similarly, there are no provisions to compensate owners for the loss of such animals. Therefore, any testing of camelids for TB has to be voluntary, but if the owner does agree to test at the Department’s expense (see below), then this needs to be linked to a voluntary prior agreement to release for slaughter any animals identified as reactors.

Losing animals to TB is bad enough without this cat's cradle of jargon to plough through. Plain English would be good. The links for the two documents are buried contained within the AHO 'Operators Manual', and can be accessed here for Defra's Disease Reporting Procedures in non-bovine species, and the here for tuberculin testing of camelids. We note that the latter advises a 'severe interpretation' of reaction >2mm rather than the standard >4mm used for cattle, until disease is confirmed. And as with much protocol developed 'on the hoof', we understand that this too is not widely adhered to.
Or perhaps the vets doing the tests haven't read the manual either.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Update - 'A way forward'

In April, we introduced a film made by wildlife photographer, Chris Chapman with the overview that a form of 'management' of what has now become an endemically infected wildlife population, was a possible way forward out of the impasse that has made the UK the worst area in the world, for bTB.

This week the film was launched, and in the next few weeks it will be seen by vets and other interested parties across the country.

An introduction by Richard Gard, an agricultural journalist with an interest in animal diseases, described how after seeing a short introductory piece, all major television channels had turned down the film. Too hot to handle? The footage of emaciated badgers which had died in dire straights was not what people would have expected from the ever rattling tins of the Wildlife and Badger groups. But that is what their ultimate protection of this species has delivered. So while the carnage of FMD were brought nightly to our screens by most TV channels, the equally destructive salami sliced effects of bTB on our cattle herds and those who tend them, are ignored.

With a strap line is 'Healthy Badgers - Healthy Cattle', the fact sheet opens:
"Wildlife assessments of groups of farms with adjacent land are an important step in the control of cattle TB to operate alongside existing procedures. The project is established to offer wildlife assessments to veterinary practices and their clients for the winter of 2009/2010. No funding for assessments is currently available."
We note that last snippet.

The political slant heaped on this pernicious zoonosis is such that successive layers of Defra (formally MAFF) civil servants and their political puppet masters have sung from a different hymn sheet when dealing with the problem at the farm level as opposed to the perceived problem tossed around in the Palace of Westminister. Thus we have in place a government totally divorced from what is really happening on the farms. And the folk tending Defra's corporate window box, haven't a clue what to do. Other than kill more cattle.

The result is that cattle farms are testing and killing cattle, and then 60 days later - killing more cattle. How extraordinarily and expensively short sighted? In warfare this is known as 'cognitive dissonance', a plan of action which although destructively wrong, may work in the end because all the cattle are dead. (Or all the badgers?) But the fallout from Defra's carnage is incalculable, both on the ecology as a whole and on other species, equally susceptible to TB, as we are seeing here and here.

Mr. Chapman's film projects stoic but grim sadness from affected farmers as their animals are piled into Defra's maw, but many salient facts as well. From Dr. John Gallagher, the well made point that very small lesions in badgers will produce millions of bacteria, (with just 70 needed to produce TB in a cow - ed. [PQs]) and that from this, "it is inevitable that there will be cross contamination". Dr. Gallagher also pointed out that the disease is monitored and acted on in cattle, but ignored in wildlife.

Devon veterinary practitioner Andrew Cobner, reported a 50 percent increase in herd breakdowns in the area covered by his practice over the last few years, with continuous cattle testing and culling failing to clear problems. And several times the difference in the behaviour of excluded and extremely sick badgers, which were shown in Mr. Chapman's film, was highlighted.

And it is this 'management' of their own social groups by the badgers themselves, that is at the core of the message offered by the group promoting the film and the possible direction TB control could take, which is explained thus:
"At this time wildlife assessments are not accepted as an important part of TB control. We are convinced that a combination of wildlife assessment, veterinary involvement and cattle management can reduce the numbers of cattle being slaughtered and the number of farms under TB restrictions."
Richard Gard explained his understanding of the word 'science', which he said "involved the observation of natural phenomenon and the need to work within it". The process is ongoing he said, and once proved, the result becomes 'science'.
The core of this possible way forward uses the observed behaviour of badgers themselves, as its core. Mr. Gard described TB as the 'hidden disease of the countryside'.

He explained how farmers, their vets and maps of the farms, all formed bits of a disease 'assessment' jigsaw. Input of where cattle had contracted disease, fields, buildings or areas which were giving problems, were then examined by trained wildlife trackers and the results mapped. These maps gave a green light to setts and territories used by badgers which clear cattle tests showed were healthy and conversely, the often single hole satellite setts, used as temporary lairage by badgers excluded by the main group and which could be linked to major breakdowns, often on several farms, were marked 'red'.

In recent papers, AHO risk assessment sheets from newly infected farms, showed an overwhelming majority - up to 90 percent - of breakdowns were attributable to wildlife, and in particular to badgers. This part of the jigsaw is then ignored. It was noted that both the BVA and BCVA had mentioned 'assessment' of all available information, in relation to their client's TB breakdowns, and also 'green and red' setts, within their policy documents.

The present non-policy offered by Defra is a shambles, but anything replacing it has to tick several boxes: the main one being the word 'targeted'. This assessment of several farms within an area, using the information offered by tested cattle sentinels, and interpreted by wildlife trackers appears to us to answer that selection process.

If the badgers don't want a skanky, sick individual within their group - why would any cattle farmer?
Healthy Badgers - Healthy Cattle Project ;

1. Initial discussions between veterinary surgeon(s) and farmers take place and an assessment area of ten square miles (6-10 farms with adjacent land) is indicated to the project. An initial meeting with the project team is arranged and local practicalities discussed. Maps showing field boundaries of each farm are to be made available. an area wildlife assessment is booked and paid for (£300 per farm)

2. The wildlife assessment is carried out over several days.

3. The farmers, vets and project team meet to review findings and the TB situation [ of cattle} in the area. Actions to improve bio-security of the herds will be discussed.

Richard Gard, Andrew Cobner, Bryan Hill.

Contact : 01647 24434 or email : .

Friday, November 06, 2009

Spokes.... and wheels.

The Welsh Assembly's decision to operate a badger culling pilot trial parallel to their enhanced cattle testing programme, may be challenged by the Badger Trust. In a not unexpected hissy fit, the Trust are reported to be attempting to put a judicial spoke in the wheel of the Welsh TB eradication policy.

Badger Trust chairman David Williams said the decision would be challenged on the basis that it is not ‘underpinned by robust scientific evidence.’
We assume that he refers to the ISG's 'robust' scientific evidence rather than anything prior to 1997, or after 2007?
The charity said badgers cannot be killed unless, under the Animal Health Act, it is to ‘eliminate or substantially reduce the spread of disease’ and was ‘both necessary and the most appropriate way but without causing undue suffering’.

True. And the present unchallenged, and possibly unlawful moratorium on this part of the Protection of Badgers Act, has done nothing for the health and welfare of badgers which the Trust pretend to support, but let that pass.

Farmers Guardian has the story.

Referring to the Independent Scientific Group’s 2007 report on badger culling, the Badger Trust claimed any benefits would be ‘at best very marginal’, while the cost would be ‘substantial’. And of course in that sweeping statement, they have deliberately missed the crucial evidence given by the diminutive professor to the EFRA committee on many occasions, when he said (quite forcefully) that culling badgers "In the way in which it was done in the RBCT badger dispersal exercise", was not sustainable. And he (Bourne) stressed the importance of this, with further questioning extracting the painful implication, that a different method, on a more flexible time frame and more tightly targeted could have achieved a substantially different result.

Even the WLU operatives and managers, overseeing the diminutive professor's (political) instructions piled in with their own experiences of this 'robust' type of science.

And the Badger Trust seems to have blindsided the follow up
on the trial, completed last year by some members of the original ISG, which showed even with protocol as badly skewed as this, a drop of 60 percent in cattle TB across all the proactive cull zones, with a corresponding drop of 30 percent in the 'edge' zones was eventually achieved. But that was after Bourne published his report and so is politically and conveniently pigeon holed. Out of sight.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

TB and alpacas - advice update.

After a concerted effort, the owners of TB affected alpacas, if not some of their breeders, have achieved not a little success in raising awareness of the susceptibility of these delightful animals to TB.

The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has produced a TB question and answer file on its website, which highlights some problems with alpacas and TB.

As we pointed out in this posting, having made TB notifiable in 'all mammalian species' in early 2006, Defra failed to provide its AHOs with the tools to finish the tracing, restriction and testing part of TB control. The result is a mish mash of voluntary compliance with regulations which are limited in statute to 'bovine species and farmed deer'.
The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has warned its members ignoring bovine TB (bTB) could have dire consequences for the species. The society has set up a TB Action Group and is also raising awareness of the issue on its website and in its membership magazine.

Farmers Guardian has more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


This week a new survey was published entitled "Scientific review on Tuberculosis in wildlife in the EU1". This 117 page pdf, gives a thumbnail sketch on the eradication problems in European member states (and other parts of the world) where wildlife reservoirs of TB are proving to be maintenance reservoirs.
"The evidence that badgers transmit bTB to cattle is compelling. Associative evidence includes descriptions of bTB in badger carcases, isolation of the causative organism, surveys where the badger was the only or the principal infected species, road traffic accident (RTA) surveys and statutory badger removal operations.
Laboratory transmission experiments have confirmed that badgers can infect cattle, and badgers are known to excrete M. bovis in faeces, sputum, urine and from open abscesses.
Molecular typing results have demonstrated that badgers and cattle generally share the same spoligotypes in the same geographical locations.
Intervention studies have provided stronger evidence of the direction of transmission between the two species.
Where badgers have been largely removed from areas of persistent cattle bTB infections, the cattle reactor rate has been markedly reduced for a sustained period subsequent to culling.
In recent, scientifically controlled trials, cattle incidence declined in areas where badgers were removed relative to comparable unculled areas.

All very true: this and much more can be downloaded here. We have not ploughed through too much of this because having said badgers are the acknowledged maintenance reservoir of TB in GB and RoI, the authors, many of whom are familiar names on the beneficial gravy train which services bTB, then spend an inordinate amount of time seeking cash for further studies to find out what to do about it. Some things are more than fudged. For instance there is the following all encompassing overview of past culling:
The Eurasian badger has long been implicated as the main wildlife reservoir of bTB in the UK and RoI, and their lethal control has formed an integral part of strategies to reduce bTB in cattle.
So, "lethal control has formed an integral part of strategy" to reduce TB in cattle? That is a remarkable simplification of what has actually happened. and the entirely predictable results of allowing it to happen.

From 1974 there was badger control in response to TB outbreaks in cattle, which could not be attributed to cattle movements. And very successful it was too, bringing the national tally down to less than 100 herds under restriction, and 638 cattle slaughtered in 1986.

But then vote begging politicians, animal lobbyists and other assorted hangers on made their strident voices felt, and policy was loosened to a point where any 'lethal control' was extremely limited and fraught with difficulty. With gassing now replaced by trapping and land available reduced from 7km, to just 1km of land which cattle had grazed, then a rise in cattle sentinels was inevitable. Especially as the authors of the paper observe:
Badger abundance in the UK tends to be relatively high in areas where bTB in cattle is a problem. National badger sett surveys suggested that in some parts of the UK there was a substantial increase in badger abundance between the 1980s and 1990s.
We get the picture - lots of badgers. Thousands of them. A very successful campaign. And dear readers, that 'substantial increase', upon which the authors of the paper have not put a figure, was 77 per cent. Despite this, and despite advice from the old Badger Panel, in 1997 after a £1million bung from the Political Animal Lobby, a moratorium was put on any badger control whatsoever. At that time the number of cattle slaughtered in GB was 3760. The resulting carnage hoovered up 40,000 cattle sentinels a decade later, and we have documented overspill to many other species, some of which are more than capable of sustaining infection within their populations and transmitting it onwards.

Although they have a convoluted way of putting things, the authors of this tome do recognise the dangers:
Research has revealed considerable detail about the ecology, behaviour and population demographics of badgers. Elsewhere in Europe where badger population densities are considered to be generally lower than those in the bTB affected parts of the UK and Republic of Ireland, there have been few confirmed reports of bTB in badgers. Hence, although the risks badgers may pose for onward transmission of bTB to domestic animals elsewhere in Europe are unknown, the evidence to date suggests that they are likely to be lower than in the UK or Republic of Ireland.

Quite. And you propose to reduce this risk, how?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

EU Cash - for what?

This week, the European Union has agreed in principle to fund the testing and slaughter of more British cattle.
"THE UK’s bovine TB eradication plan has been given the green light by the EU’s animal health committee, which agreed a €10 million funding package to help implement the plan.The funding will be available to contribute to the costs of TB testing and compensation for cattle slaughtered."

Farmers Guardian has the story.

It is not clear from the news dripping out of the European Commission, just what sort of 'eradication' package the UK presented.
Scotland, having decided to 'go it alone', is not included, but the title not only implies a bit of serious dot-joining, the documentation issued by the DG SANCO (Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs) authorities in the EU, spells out governmental responsibilities quite clearly.
The elimination or reduction of the risk posed by an infected wildlife reservoir enables the other measures contained in the programme to yield the expected results, whereas the persistence of TB in these wildlife populations impedes the effective elimination of the disease.

Major socio-political resistance (lobbyism) against any measure involving the removal of infected wildlife or interventions affecting the environment are to be expected. The additional costs associated with these actions are not likely to be negligible."
As we have said many times, a one sided non-policy such has been foisted on this country since a £1 million bung in 1997, is totally responsible for the unholy mess our cattle industry now finds itself in.
But spillover of bTB into numerous other mammalian species in happening in increasing numbers, with alpacas leading the field in numbers. And for them, inter herd spread appears a big problem. It would appear that once an alpaca or llama becomes infected, bTB spreads through these delightful animals very quickly, swiping them one after another.

So what of this 10 million euro cash pot, that will arrive from the UK and German taxpayers via the auspices of the 'European Union', presumably to implement T-Beggar's recommendations of more testing, more slaughter of cattle, and more ways to live with this (increasing) level of bTB? As the SANCO document says (in more than one place) unless parallel measures are taken to eliminate the risk from wildlife reservoirs, in tandem (that means ' at the same time'), any cattle measures and thus any amount of cash poured in to facilitate them, is destined for the same black hole which Lord Rooker so eloquently described in 2007 when he told the ERRA committee,
"Defra have no policy, and have spent £1 billion to no good effect in the last decade.

And now they have 10 million more euros to play with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A square a very round hole.

The more we look at responses to our postings and those on other sites, the more we think that although baby-Ben Bradshaw was quite correct in making suspected bTB notifiable in 'any mammalian species', it would have been sensible to put a safety net of statute under such reports.

The minister for (some) Animal's Health made this amendment in 2006, which meant that Defra picked up the tab for postmortems, cultures etc. on any mammal suspected of having bTB. But there the joining of departmental dots gets disjointed, with AHO only having legislature over bTB in 'Bovine species and farmed deer'.

We have mentioned, some cases of domestic pets, and given camelids several mentions, not least because they appear not only to be highly susceptible to bTB, but also highly infectious when they do get the disease. And therein lies a problem. Defra may have post-mortemed a cat, dog, sheep, pig, goat, alpaca or llama - and this is a cursory look, not a full pm, we understand - but there the story ends. A movement restriction may be issued. Or it may not. It may apply to certain groups of animals on the holding, but not to the whole area. Testing may be offered, or it may not; or it may be refused as may entry to the holding. Owners may be given permission to use supplementary tests but if these prove positive, whether or not they are 'validated' or accurate is dismissed out of hand, as positive candidates must be slaughtered before any further testing continues, or restrictions which have been accepted, lifted. Compulsory purchase of these 'other species' is discretionary, and owes more to 'who you know' than a genuine attempt to clear disease. We are aware of some eyewatering amounts paid for camelids, but the ex gratia figure, if owners follow what little protocol applies, is said to be around £750 / head.

In all this is a dog's breakfast of policies which individual veterinary practitioners, AHOs, VI centres, VLA and even (or especially) Health Protection Agencies seem reluctant or unable to coalesce. AHOs particularly, are caught between (B)rock and a hard place trying to shoehorn Bradshaw's 'other mammalian species' into statutory cattle regulations for bTB, while the various bodies charged with screening their human contacts for bTB are still locked into text books, decades out of date, looking for 'unpasteurised milk' from a 'cow with udder lesions'.

None of this non-policy fits, any which way you twist it. Like our square peg: into a round hole, it will not go.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Eradication - 20 / 30 years

The report of T-BAG's (TB Advisory Group) successor, T-Beggars (TB Eradication Group) is published today on the Defra website.

Foremost amongst its recommendations is a consolidation of 'parish' testing intervals to reflect risk. The maps (on P.21) in the report show how gaps will be filled in from next year (2010) to give annual testing for all the west / south west area, with a 10km two year testing buffer along the eastern edge. It is estimated that an extra 4000 herds will be pulled into this regime. We have no problem with testing cattle, or slaughtering reactors. Our 'problem' is with leaving the source of the outbreaks intact. The cynical among us may speculate on just how long this 'Maginot line' will stay in its allotted place, before it migrates eastwards at the rate a badger can travel in a year ?

Other proposals which have been widely speculated upon, involve advice on biosecurity (which will help, how?) and a handful of changes designed to make bTB more easy to live with. Or in the case of our cattle, to die from. And this will happen more frequently as inconclusives are given the chop at their second test, not third. Thus, as the boss says, leaving an increasingly 'naive' population of cattle, at increasing risk from an untapped wildlife source of endemic disease.

A change in definition of TB within herds is on the the cards too, from the misleading 'unconfirmed' breakdown, where neither lesions nor culture have been able to 'confirm' infection, to just a 'restriction'. This is academic to farmers, the ravages of herd restriction being no different whether TB is confirmed or not, (merely slightly longer if TB is confirmed, or infinite until the source is sorted out.) But it will make the picture clearer to our European masters, who may be under the impression that GB's TB incidence, based on a figure of New Confirmed Incidents only, is under 4%. It is not, it is rapidly approaching 10% as herds are under constant test and slaughter regimes, but are not cleared thus not shown as 'NHIs'. This method (NHIs) of tracking the spread of disease is excellent, provided there is a single source - which is being successfully tackled. But in this case, an increasing rump of herds are languishing under almost constant reinfection from 'wildlife' and are under restriction, incurring testing costs and slaughter but do not appear as headline figures.

But isn't T-Beggar's comparison with the Australian experience of 20 - 30 years to eradicate this disease, stretching the imagination somewhat? For a start, Australia is a slightly larger land mass than GB and it's wildlife reservoir, wider ranging with eradication involving 'Judas cattle', helicopters and a mass shootings. But the main difference is that Australia realised a while ago that they had to act on their wildlife reservoir to ensure TB cattle, and thus a TB free country. A fact which still appears to have escaped the current administration somewhat. And until that happens, making finishing units more accessible, and calf slaughter away from farms is - er, admirable. But livestock markets depend on throughput and set Defra's tabular valuations, while supermarkets want vertical integration of their supply chain, and will exert any pressure they can, to achieve this. But a dead calf is still dead, even if the farmer doesn't have to shoot it himself. And in the absence of any action on wildlife sources (we do not consider vaccinating endemically infected badgers 'action') the trend line for cattle slaughterings, predicts over 70,000 annually by 2014.

The NFU are said to be 'disappointed' that more emphasis was not given to the reservoir of disease in badgers, but accepted that the group had a tight remit. A remit that goes right back to reflect Hilary Benn's elation that his coup of changing of just one word, 'advisory' to 'eradication' could have been believed by so many. And he still does not have to accept a single word of the many that any such group is obliged to offer.

Depending of course on when 'eradication' of TB in badgers is started, we think 20 - 30 years is a gross overstatement. Thornbury achieved clean cattle in under a year, and kept them clear for a decade or more. But 'hard boundaries' to badger control are not necessary. A healthy badger group will do the job cheaper and quicker.

And in 30 years time, by 2040, these bloggers will be pushing up the proverbial daisies - as will most of the politicians, pseudo scientists and assorted hangers on, who have got us into this mess in the first place. So quite frankly, my dears.....

Just to remind readers, this map was the situation 30 years ago, in 1986. And before the aforementioned groups set about dismantling any semblance of badger control in response to confirmed cattle TB, which could not be traced to cattle movements. In that year GB reported less than 100 herds with breakdowns, and 638 cattle were slaughtered.

Such is progress.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tories would bring camelids under TB umbrella

At the Tory party conference this week, Shadow Minister Jim Paice MP gave the clearest commitment yet to a bTB eradication policy which hoovers up all its susceptible victims, including camelids.

Farmers Weekly has the story.
Camelids and alpacas could be brought into the testing regime for TB under a Conservative government, shadow farm minister Jim Paice has said.

Speaking exclusively to Farmers Weekly at the Tory party conference in Manchester, Mr Paice said he realised concern was growing about the reported reservoir of disease in the animals.

And he said the presence of TB in camelids needed tackling, even though many owners were against TB tests being carried out.
We have touched on this subject before, with a story from a Devon breeder here and an ongoing Cornish breakdown here. Several more breakdowns in alpaca and llama herds are coming to our attention, and to Defra's as well. At present any testing, slaughter, pioneering of new ante mortem tests or anything else to do with camelids, is up to owners of these animals. And Defra. But ultimately, Defra have a boss too. And it is not that vegetarian bloke called Hillary, who flatly refuses to act on any reservoir of this pernicious zoonotic disease except tested sentinel cattle, culled because of their exposure to the bacteria which causes it.

Overseeing Defra's non-policies on (some) Animals Health, is the OIE (Office des International Epizooties) to whom Hilary Benn is responsible for control and eradication of bTB. Wherever that may be.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Party Political Animals

As preparations get underway for the third of the party conferences, here are a couple of links to show the great divide between the current government and any future one.

This pic is of Hillary Wedgewood-Benn, MP our Minister for (some) Animal's Health, when he addressed the NFU conference a year ago.
Despite continuing carnage, his prevarication has not altered one iota, his stance rigidly against a policy which involves tackling badgerTB in its host species. This week's Farmers Guardian offers a thumbnail sketch of the current government's track record on disease control, tracing its cattle casualties of consistant non-policy from 6000 to 40,000 slaughtered per year, over the last decade.

"If there is a single issue that has defined farming’s uneasy relationship with the current Government, it is badgers and bovine TB."

But what of junior Ministerial colleagues, many of whom have openly disagreed with Benn and his numerous predecessors?

The political equivalent of a gulag in outer Siberia awaits dissenters:
"Ministers who felt differently either got nowhere while in office, in the case of Jeff Rooker, or only felt able to speak out afterwards, in the cases of Nick Brown or Jane Kennedy".
What a crazy, expensive, reckless and futile waste of time. But would any other administration be any different? This site was started with the posting of 500 PQs, which were lobbed in the direction of the ever obedient MP for Exeter, and then junior Minister of (some) Animal's Health, baby-Ben Bradshaw, who followed his masters voice, to the letter. And is now Minister for something else.

Many farmers are hanging their hats on the words of Benn's shadow minister in the Conservative party, Jim Paice, MP.

At least Mr. Paice was prepared to forsake the Westminister bubble, and get his wellies muddy. He explored some Benn badgerTB hotspots, as we posted here.
Unusually for a politician, there have been some recent clear, unambiguous statements by senior Tory figures, including leader David Cameron and Shadow Defra Secretary Nick Herbert, committing the party to a badger cull.

Farmers Guardian takes up the story:
In a sign of how seriously the party is now taking the issue, veteran Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has been given the task of developing a detailed badger culling policy for England, so a new Tory Government can hit the ground running.

“We would hopefully get on with it almost immediately,” Mr Paice says. “I really do not want this hanging about any longer. Twelve years ago, 3,000 animals were being culled. It has now rocketed to over 40,000 and the Government has just sat idly by and done nothing."

And in this pledge, he is backed by the Liberal Democrats who accuse Defra of shamelessly 'ducking the issue' and say;
A limited badger cull is necessary and the science does justify it. The reality is badgers are reservoirs of TB, we need to tackle them and the way is through a targeted cull in south west England.

We have been heard to remark that if a politician's lips are moving, he is lying. But, and it's a big but, the recent love affair this country has had with its financial services industry, which has now landed any administration with huge debts as this sector is bailed out, will inevitably mean some serious pruning of costs. And the sheer weight of unecessary cattle slaughter and it's knock effect on imports, and thus the balance of payments deficit, may just ring a few bells - somewhere. Maybe. Or, an MP's constituent may bang on his office door with a wake up call about a dead cat, dog, or alpaca. And demand some answers as to just where their pet acquired this disease from, and what is he / she going to do about it?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welsh Announcement

Today, Rural Affairs Minister in the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones said she had taken the decision to sign and lay the Order to give Welsh ministers the power to issue a cull and/or vaccination of badgers in Wales.
The Independent has the story.

And some background to the Welsh decision is described by Dr. Christianne Glossop, on a recent visit to the TB conference in New Zealand where she told her audience:
" We slaughtered 12,000 cattle infected with tuberculosis in Wales last year. In some areas of Wales, the infection rates are as high as 15%.

In contrast, New Zealand has an infection rate of 0.35% and it’s going down. You have nearly wiped this disease out through rigorous pursuit of pest management, stock movement controls and robust government policies built on co-operation between farmers, local councils and government."

New Zealand offers the following reminder to its farmers about their responsibilities, when dealing with the country's wildlife reservoir.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"There was 'A wall of silence'.

Our post below has provoked two quite different reactions. In it we told the story of four dead cats, one of which was tested positive for m.bovis,(the zoonotic bacteria which causes bTB) and the medical authorities who refused screening for the family in whose air space, rugs and knees the cats had lived.

After an airing the story on Dr. Colin Fink of Warwick University replied that as there were no symptoms after eight months, then HPA were probably correct.
" In the case of the cat diagnosed to have the disease, if the owners and immediate family remain asymptomatic, then all is well . Whether they have been exposed and have been infected with a small amount of the organisms and deal with this infection in the normal immunological way, is rather academic. Many of us meet M.Tuberculosis but remain entirely asymptomatic. The cat owners et al may be reassured. If they were to become ill and remain unwell for longer than a transient infection might be expected to last, then further investigation would be justified."
Up to a point, we agree. But, and this is a big 'but', the HPA and all its satellite agencies have a duty of care to screen for bTB where contact with a confirmed case either in a human being, or any animal (farmed or domestic) is known to have occurred. And that is far from 'academic'.

We described it last year, in this posting. And the documentation relating to that responsibility, can be found in this booklet produced by HPA in April this year.

But what is becoming quite clear, is the dumbing down of 'spill over cases' of bTB in mammals other than tested cattle and the reluctance of Defra to bring other farmed mammals into their bTB eradication plans. But more reckless is the absolute brick wall of reluctance, adopted by some local authorities to screen for possible onward transmission of this long-term zoonosis, to its human contacts.

Veterinary practitioner David Denny B.VET.MED.M.R.C.V.S has sent us the following comment from his area which is close to the location of the cat in this weeks' posting.

"The frustrating experience of Kira Lily is regrettably not unique. Her experience is typical of this despicable Government’s micro management of the Authorities involved. In order to skew the bTB statistics and being virtually gagged, the authorities have to ‘sing from the political hymn sheet’.

Mr. Denny then describes his own involvement with a case described as by local authorities as 'atypical tuberculosis from a non-bovine source' which we reported here. We post Mr. Denny's experiences with the authorities, in full.
In 2005 there was a cluster of young children near Newport, Powys - a bTB hotspot - who had swollen lymph glands in the neck and head glands. These are classical ‘scrofula’ symptoms of TB. Some of the glands were suppurating- leaking pus. Because some failed to respond to antibiotic treatment, their glands were surgically removed. Although Mycobacterium bacilli were isolated it is apparent that the unique media essential to grow bTB was not used.

One child a dairy farmer’s daughter developed enlarged glands, which burst. Months later a consultant paediatrician diagnosed “atypical TB”. The authorities allowed the child to go to school, provided the glands were covered up! Although the farm had a history of some bTB in the cattle, no one would tell her Mother where the TB had come from - there was a ‘wall of silence’ from the authorities. Unlike most of the parents who were probably too embarrassed to cause a fuss, one mother was so frustrated that she had front page coverage in the Powys County Times 24 March 2006. The National Public Health Service said “there is no such thing as atypical TB, it is a Mycobacterium infection which can cause a whole range of infections some of which are TB, which are usually acquired from the environment, but transmission can occur from animals to humans”.

In the local school playing area a moribund badger was found. The local Veterinary Surgeon had the carcase sent to the VLA at Aberystwyth. The VS attempted to establish from the VLA the result of the PM. They would not tell him, “they were not allowed to”. Having been at College with the DVM at Shrewsbury he contacted him. “I am unable to tell you”. He eventually established, off the record that the badger did in fact have lesions typical of TB. Later it turned out that on instructions from above the lesions “must not be cultured. We don’t want a TB badger to be found in a school play area”!.

Tuberculosis is a very slow growing organism, and although it is considered to be a disease primarily involving the lungs it can establish itself in any organ or multiple organs of the body be it brain or bone etc. Thus a negative lung X’ray in no way indicates freedom from TB. Medical authorities may also, because of the very real risk of over exposure, be very reluctant to X’ray young children. The usual first line of screening is the Mantoux skin test, which is said to show exposure to TB bacteria. But increasingly, PCR sputum tests are also used as non invasive and arguably more specific screens.

Mr. Denny continues:
Whilst the aerosol route of infection is the accepted way, it is certainly not the only way TB can enter the body; it can enter through any orifice or even a wound. The main route of infection for cattle would be by them eating/ drinking contaminated food which badgers have contaminated, when each teaspoonful of their urine can contain 1,500,000 TB bacilli. [ And it only needs 70 cfu bacteria to provoke a skin reaction, or cause infection in cattle. - ed]..

As the figures of bTB spill back are slowly released, it seems that camelids (alpacas) and cats are the most vulnerable. Mr. Denny describes bTB infection in cats thus:
Because cats are so fastidious and are always licking themselves any bacilli in their hair or on their feet are ingested. Cat wounds can become infected as a result of being licked. It results in a non healing grossly thickened wound which does not respond to treatment.

And many of these cats, 'not responding to treatment' will have been 'fastidiously' grooming themselves on the lap of their owner. And that is not 'academic' at all. It appears to us that it presents a real and present danger.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mrs. Tiggywinkle - again.

We never underestimate the amount of cash spent re-inventing wheels, and repeating previous studies. Especially not where badgers are concerned. Two years ago Defra released a study paper upon which our Trevor, late of the Badger Trust, attempted a spot of verbal gymnastics.
It concluded that too many badgers = no hedgehogs.

And now another paper, from another University has concluded exactly the same. And for any badgers who read the Daily Mail there is even a recipe for the dispatching of hedgehogs. Badgers, the paper says:

" ..... have learned to use their long claws to prize them [hedgehogs] open - even when they are curled up tight. Once the badger has the hedgehog pinned down tight, it swipes its victim with 1.5 inch claws, pulls it open and bites it to kill it before pulling the flesh from the prickles. The prickles and skin are discarded.."

The paper points out that "badgers have an exceptionally strong bite for their size and will bite each other on the rump during serious disagreements." The report may also have been a tad optimistic about that "bite to kill" statement, quoted above and implying a human death. We have heard that a hedgehog pinned down by his paws, will be peeled like an orange while still very much alive. His screams are not pleasant, and are prolonged.

The ecological effect of an uncontrolled badger population was first brought to our attention by Dr. Willie Stanton who tracked an increase in badgers on his patch for several years, and noted a corresponding decrease in virtually every other small mammal, reptile, insect or ground nesting bird. This latest paper merely reinforces previous work.
The findings come in a study which shows a close geographical link between the decline of hedgehogs and the presence of badgers.
Researcher Dr Anouschka Hof, of Royal Holloway University of London, estimates there are about a million hedgehogs in Britain.
'However, they have been declining over the last decade, especially in areas where there are a lot of badgers,' she said.

Read more:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

There is a film about the effect of bTB on cattle herds and their owners, on
this link.
Bovine TB - a Crisis in the Countryside.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Constructive Ignorance?

A comment has come into the site which has alarmed us somewhat. Our old friend mycobacterium bovis is, as we have said many times, a very serious zoonosis and as such, anyone who has had contact with either a human or an animal confirmed case should be checked out for the disease by the public health authorities. When bTB is confirmed in cattle, (unless anyone knows differently - see later) the local public health department are alerted by the AHO responsible for the area, and tests offered to anyone who has had contact with the cattle.

But when a pet is confirmed with bTB, the resulting health checks appear to be a tad selective, as this comment shows:
We lost all 4 of our pet cats to bovine TB late last year / early this year. (we had one confirmed case and were instructed by defra to euthanize the other 3 (all the while our vets were telling us not to worry, "this doesn't happen; cats don't get tb"))
Yes they do. We covered some feline victims here and another here. Over forty cats were positively identified with bTB 2005-2007. So what about their owners after sharing armchairs and airspace?

The comment continues that Defra did its job and recommended that the owners of the cats, and their 7yr old son were all be tested for btb. And then a stumbling block. the comment continues:
"Public health in our area of Wales flat out refused us tests. I spent hours every day for weeks on the phone to everyone I could think of (private doctors and hospitals, public health, the county's health board, newspapers, Defra, etc) and had no success."
Ten months on from the death of this cat with confirmed bTB and eight months from the euthanasia of its three companions, the owner is still unaware as to whether or not she or any members of her family were/are infected. She has also heard of another case of bTB in a domestic cat in the same area.

The advice from the numerous bodies dealing with bTB, acting it would seem, in glorious isolation both from each other and reality, was confusing. Defra saying that aerosol transmission was a serious risk, while public health parroting 1950s text books, and quoting "unpasteurized milk or infected udders" as the only source. Catch up, please. That loophole was firmly closed in the 1970s. Where on earth do these people think the exposure of 40,000 sentinel, tested and slaughtered cattle annually is coming from? M. bovis doesn't fly in with the tooth fairy. It is carried by infected mammals. Primarily badgers. And in quantities guaranteed to produce onwards transmission, and subsequent disease in anything which is unlucky enough to fall over the detritus they leave behind. Spill back is now increasingly seen in cats, alpacas, goats, sheep, pigs and other companion mammals.

This lady then asked Defra how her cats could've contracted the disease and Animal Health replied "cows or badgers." The location of these cats is a rural cottage, surrounded by sheep with a few herds of cattle as well. The spoligotype of m.bovis isolated from the first cat is described by local AHO as:
... the strain predominant in our area (the Brecon Beacons in mid Wales).
The comment continues with the worrying observation from local farmers who have had bTB problems in their cattle herds, that despite them having received advice from AHOs to be tested for bTB, they are being turned away by GPs.

This is a case of Wales not joining their respective dots with access to TB testing, Xrays and a merry-go-round between different regional health authorities - for which there is absolutely no excuse. We have touched on problems with human TB in Wales before and in this week's Veterinary press is a timely reminder that all too often, 'tuberculosis' in humans is not strain typed at all, being logged under the all-encompassing title 'tuberculosis complex'. Thus the true level of bTB, which would have involved health agencies joining hands with VLA to strain type, and examining causes and transmission opportunities, is likely to be described by the Public health authorities as 'low'. Of course it's 'low' if it's not looked for, diagnosed or strain typed. Now, our co-editor has a name for this: it could be (he says) different agencies protecting their respective castles, i.e total bloody incompetence, or what we have seen so many times before, when reality becomes uncomfortable - constructive ignorance.

The responsibility for control of this grade 3 pathogen is quite clearly set out in the Health Protection Agency's Zoonosis guidelines which proudly bears the logos of Defra, Animal Health, VLA and the Food Standards Agency. And it is bang up to date, printed in 'April 2009'. So, we suggest (or the boss does) that the first port of call for our Welsh lady, if these agencies fail to hold hands with the powers that be, is the HPU (Health Protection Unit) - with a copy of any correspondence to her local MP.

The booklet is quite proscriptive, describing bTB as a statutory notifiable disease which has 'multi agency discipline'. But that does mean that the numerous agencies can pass this parcel around and no one pick up responsibility for it.

6.1.5 p.16
"Responsibility for investigating transmission from animals to humans in a domestic setting rests with the HPA (Health Protection Agency)"
Meanwhile in her locality our correspondent has discovered a third cat with bTB, whose owners have been refused tests. See the comment section in this posting.

She concludes her story,
It's [ bTB diagnosis] a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare. A GP I saw out of hours (and outside of our own practise) told me that public health are useless. That was reassuring. The bTB situation in the UK is a mess and a nightmare. It is being handled appallingly badly by people who don't seem to care about the health and welfare of animals or humans.
We couldn't possibly comment.