Thursday, May 28, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board?

As our readers will have guessed by now, we are less than enthusiastic about the concept of vaccinating badgers, endemically infected with tuberculosis with - a vaccine for er, tuberculosis. Leaving aside the small niggles of designing of a badger 'crush' in which to confine them long enough to safely jab, using a vaccine which is less than efficient and then marking the candidates so they don't get needled twice, the very idea of doing this in areas where badgers are riddled with TB seems crackers. But hey, we're just farmers. Wadda we know?

We talked about the concept of badger vaccination well over a year ago, and when Defra announced its planned vaccination programme would only be in hotspot areas, we updated our comments.

Today, we were not alone. Farmers Guardian report that a Swiss-trained vet, now based in South West England, has said Defra’s plan to inject badgers was ‘guaranteed to backfire’, as there were only two ‘golden rules’ regarding vaccination – and this would break both of them.
The first rule was to ‘never, never vaccinate a stressed or weakened animal’, but trapping and manually injecting badgers would do just that, he said.

Stress compromised the immune system and the effectiveness of the vaccine, but more seriously, a weak badger would fall down the social pecking order and be forced out of the sett, increasing perturbation.

A displaced badger trying to join a sett would lead to fighting, with a high risk of TB transmission. A weakened badger with no sett would be more likely to forage in a farmyard, depositing infected excretions (saliva, urine and faeces), putting cattle at risk.

The second rule was to never vaccinate against a disease when you have ‘even the slightest suspicion’ the animal already had it.
But this is Defra we're talking about. And vaccinating endemically infected badgers against a disease which they already have, is a decision made by a career bureaucrat - our minister for (some) Animal Health, Hilary Benn, MP. Is he walking on water? We think so.

This is a very serious situation. We could only hope that this stark, staring mad daft idea did not make a bad situation even worse.

But in the opinion of Mr. Zellweger, as it was with our scientifically minded colleagues, it is likely to do precisely that.

We are grateful to Mr. Zellweger (an experienced veterinary practitioner) for further explanation of why this idea of Hilary Benn (a career politician) that vaccinating badgers already infected with tuberculosis, will add anything other than carnage to an already bad situation.

On the second 'golden rule' of any vaccination programme, that of jabbing a candidate "who you even the slightest suspician may have the diseae already", Ueli Zellweger makes the following points, specifically about tuberculosis:
If such a diseased animal is vaccinated there is a very high risk to booster or trigger the infection, making things much worse. With bTB, a generalized infection could result: for a minor focus - or tubercle as those are called - even in a so far closed form, could break up, producing a wide spread of bacteries via blood - or lymphstream to all other organs, leading to abscesses and pus and shedding of high amounts of infectious material for the whole miserable rest of its [ the badger's] life. TB is almost always a chronic disease with an “extremly slow death” ~ sometimes after years only suffering from low fever every now and then and getting weaker and weaker.

Mr. Zellweger points out that Defra plan to start their vaccination of badgers with injectible BCG in pilot areas in 2010, in six some 40 square miles big test areas where bTB is known to be already most endemic. And in spite of
technology being avaialable, he notes;
It is not planned to test badger setts before vaccination.

And by 2014, when in theory at least, this sop to perceived opinion
bright idea will be rolled out, the numbers of tested, slaughtered cattle sentinels will be approaching 75,000 annually in GB.

Spillover into other mammalian species is an unknown, but it is gathering pace.


Anonymous said...

Minister Benn to Glyn Hewinson (Head of TB Research VLA Weybridge)

“Ah Glyn my dear chap – a question for you; tell me - if it takes 10 men 10 days to dig 10 holes and it takes half of them 10 days to half fill half of them
how long will it take to successfully half vaccinate half of 100,000 half live badgers?”

GHs reply: “It’s black & white Sir”

Minister Benn: “Correct Glyn – Carry On!”

Peter Brady

Matthew said...

Thanks Peter. Like it.
Isn't 'Darling' in there somewhere with his piles of pennies? If not he should be.

Spritelyone said...

Try commenting on the real issue for once, not this absurd vendetta against the badger. Concentrate on the missed tests, the failure of the "live" test, the way farmers spread TB nationwide after foot and mouth; the fact that a much bigger epidemic in the 50s and 60s was resolve without one badger being killed. Then, as now, farming practices and cattle-to-cattle spread were the problem. Glo'shire boy

Matthew said...

Mike, define 'real issue'?

Rampant tuberculosis in the environment is not a vendetta against badgers but against the disease, its consequences and spillovers.

Missed tests? Are you sure? Slow data transfer (weeks), certainly. But in most cases the test has been done. And as soon as the data shows no test results, the farm is placed under restriction anyway. Cattle going nowhere fast.

Just a handful of reactors were found in post FMD restocks, which post movement testing found. They were removed; end of story. Some were home grown, in that the spoligotype was not from the consigning herd, but unique to the receiving farm.

But most of the post FMD problems were caused by the vast movement of badgers after the carnage during 2001 removed their feed source and upset their ecological home.

It is naive to assume that the removal of 11 million grazing animals in a short space of springtime, would not have had mojor effects on the animals and birds which depend on them, and the agricultural operations which supported them. The badgers moved. Found more cattle and fought for territory with the exisiting groups already there. When the culled out farms restocked, the badgers moved back. Scarred, battered and with TB as a bonus, from peturbation induced scrapping.

In the 50s and 60s, cattle testing and slaughter + a 2m barrier fence, brought the disease in cattle down to almost zero. But in a few places, despite huge efforts the numbers remained stubbornly high. It was only when the clearance of infected badger setts was done in parallel to cattle measures, that sentinel reactor numbers dropped.

More detail on this both in GB and Ireland :
(Click sidebar to postings July 2007, and scroll down if link won't work)

We started this site to explain that that old chestnut of cattle to cattle spread of bTB is a non starter as far as the contributers are concerned. No bought in cattle, and in most cases, no cattle neighbours. But we do share badgers. And the infected ones are causing havoc. And unless we get a handle on this environmental contamination which the tested, slaughtered sentinel cattle are flagging up, then the spillover which we are already seeing in cats, dogs, goats, pigs, camelids, sheep and human beings, will affect the latter much more.

The thread was about vaccinating badgers with tuberculosis, against tuberculosis, btw. A venture which we are very much against, for the reasons given in the posting by a Swiss vet.

Anonymous said...

I am reliably informed that the government's latest strategy to address BLUE TONGUE is to passively capture live midges and vaccinate them!


Anonymous said...

Seriously though!

There are now an estimated 1 MILLION badgers in the UK of which some 35%-50% are increasingly infectious bTB-wise - the badger population must be managed - badgers must be culled!


Matthew said...

The key word you have just used Peter is ' managed '.

This now endemically infected population must be managed, both for its own sake and the sake of all its spillover victims.

The environmental contamination in many parts of GB, for which the reservoir of tuberculosis in badgers is primarily responsible, (and tested, slaughtered, sentinel cattle a symptom) is something that no sane administration could countenance.

It is politics of the madhouse, which will come back to bite those who encouraged its growth.