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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Counting the cost

After a visit to some Bradshaw, Beckett, Benn, bovine badger-TB hotspots in the SW, Shadow minister, Jim Paice MP was up beat about a 'management' plan to target infected populations of badgers, rather than a wipe out over an area. But land owners will have to contribute, he told Farmers Weekly
Tory plans for a cull are in their early stages, but proposals topped the agenda during a three-day visit Mr. Paice to TB hotspot areas in the south-west of England this week. Any cull would be properly co-ordinated, said Mr Paice. "I have always said that any cull of badgers should be targeted at those setts most likely to be infected, rather than simply deciding to cull all the badgers in any particular area."
We understand this would involve not just geographical 'hard boundaries' so beloved by the Bourne group, but the sort of 'badger' boundaries used by the Clean Ring TB eradication strategies of the 1980s. These used a 'virtual barrier' of clean healthy badgers as the end of the cull area. It is our understanding that Mr. Paice was shown some well worked main setts which looked like an advert for JCB diggers which were (although this is without the benefit of PCR to confirm, Defra having thrown this technology into the long grass) described to him as 'actively, well worked and vibrant' - as were their occupants. Confirmation coming from the sentinel, regularly tested cattle, which were - clear.

He was then taken a few hundred yards away and saw satellite setts, often single holes, into which the old and sick of the group were kicked out at the end of their tenure. We understand the partially decomposed remains of a previous occupant were in evidence, outside at least one of these.

Although Mr. Paice declined to put a figure on how much individual farmers would be charged, industry sources suggested £7.50/ha (£3/acre), meaning a £600 bill for a typical 150-cow dairy herd run across 80ha (200 acres).

The bill for successive governmental non-policy is running at around £100m annually. To describe it as 'combating bovine TB' is stretching the imagination somewhat. Apart from ongoing 'research' some of which is vital, much is offered as top up grants to universities, producing a lightweight paper trail which has little to offer the real world of epidemiology and disease control. The main tranche of the budget is spent on continual testing of cattle, hauling reactor cattle to abattoirs, slaughtering cattle, taking samples from said cattle, culturing samples and sending results to local AHOs who then produce their pile of paperwork - to test more cattle. That isn't a 'policy', it is a thoroughly wasteful carnage, going absolutely nowhere.

But having believed the guff churned out by mathematical modellers who convinced the world (and themselves) that selling houses they couldn't afford, to people who then could not pay, but that the value of said house would continue to increase - fuelling an eye watering pyramid of bonuses - the perpetrators of the current credit crunch reality check have mortgaged successive governments for the foreseeable future. Defra has no money and Mr Paice told Farmers Weekly:
"Frankly, I can't see me getting any extra money so either it is going to have to come from elsewhere in DEFRA's budget - which won't be immediately easy - or we are going to have to ask farmers to pick up some of the cost." Although the Tory plan would save money by bringing the disease under control, Mr Paice said any additional measures would involve an additional short-term cost.
This illustrates just how important it is that any TB eradication policy has overall AHO control. Contributers to this site have told us that although they have problems - some ongoing - with the disease, the badgers responsible are off-lyers. They are not located on the land owned by the cattle farmer. And that was the single most important restraint faced by SVS during the ten year 'Interim' startegy 1987 - 97. Not only was the 'clean ring' area reduced from 7 km from a confirmed TB outbreak in cattle , to just 1km, but wildlife teams could only trap on land which 'cattle had grazed'. Thus if the badgers responsible were located in woodland or the farm next door, they couldn't gain access. Even though badger territories extended over several cattle farms in the locality. So a cattle farm in that position today, would be throwing away money unless Defra utilised its 'right of entry' to such areas.

And in further slant, TB costs are put at £50 per head of finished cattle by a Cornish farmer. Weight loss in his regularly tested beef cattle and consequential labour costs are just some of the on-farm extras, which Defra's non-policy already load onto this industry. We told you more of the 'benefits' of TB restriction, in this posting.

Friday, September 04, 2009

You'll love this...

Over the years, we have heard some pretty imaginative spin from the Badger Trust. Dear old Trevor was a master whose manipulation of reports, statistics and research would have amazed even Alistair Campbell. Nothing excaped his cartwheels. From 14 million cattle doing bunny hops around the country, to a misleading over view on the Isle of Man's TB incidence, his enthusiasm for his chosen cause knew no bounds. Especially the bounds of honesty and accuaracy, when it came to reporting to his groupies or the media.

Lawson's successor, Jack Reedy, is walking in his footsteps, as we reported here when he told the Radio 4 audience in response to a programme about the Farm Crisis Network TB report, that
".. the TB problems of farms were merely "shoe pinches" because of the "economic penalty" which a breakdown entails, and nothing to do with its emotional impact on the animals or farmers. He went on to say that it is "very unusual for farmers to get fond of their cows" and that they are "usually very careful not to". Cattle are not pets (he helpfully pointed out)"
Which is possibly an slight improvement on Lawson's "cattle get killed anyway" line.

The impression Reedy gave in that interview, was that if farmers are paid enough, they'd roll over and that the TB problem would just disappear. We disagree, as would we suspect, several pet owners, and farmers of other breeds now caught up in the overspill of 'environmental' TB.
In the past, we have given a name to this elephant in the room, 'environmental' TB, labelling the bacterium after its current maintenance host, 'badger' TB. But a succession of ministerial prevarications has given us further inspiration: Bradshaw TB, Beckett TB and now Benn TB? But we digress.

Mr. Reedy,the latest offering ministerial morsels, in a long depressing line of hope over experience, has expanded his organisation's point of view in a longer interview with Alistair Driver, published in this week's Farmers Guardian, saying that:

Farmers are being ‘dangerously emotional’ about bovine TB and need to accept the scientific evidence in front of them.

We won't spoil your pleasure at this man's incredible naivity, by even cutting and pasting his comments. But we will comment on his failure to recognise any 'science' other than that produced by the ISG his apparent blindspots to his 'solution' of whole herd slaughter, which has been tried and failed. Or his kicking into the long grass, the painstaking work of local AH officers who complete a 'risk assessment' when they attend any new TB breakdown. These TB99s were ignored by the ISG, but show that in hotspot areas, as Lord Rooker realised, that only a tiny fraction of cases can be back traced to cattle movements. The majority - 76 percent and probably up to 90 percent, are down to badgers. The chart below was first shown at the BCVA Killarney conference.

The chart also bears out cause and effect of the Thornbury badger clearance in the mid 1970s. The area recorded a herd incidence of TB of 5.6 per cent and gassing setts started in December 1975, continuing for up to eight months. After that, badgers were left to gradually recolonise. Which they did. And the result?
"No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area of the Thornbury operation were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" Hansard: 28th Jan 2004 col 385W [150573]
So, what was the cause of the Thornbury success? Whole herd slaughter? Cohort slaughter? Zoning and movement restrictions, licensing and more cattle measures? Biosecurity and stricter testing? Change in the weather? All measures offered today by the Badger Trust, discussed by the T-Beggars ( T-BAG's successor around Defra's consultation table ) - and tried in the past by others, with humiliatingly expensive and ignominious results. However, we did ask. And remembering that it is a hanging offence to mislead a minister in written parliamentary questions, his answer was thus:
The fundamental difference bewteen the Thornbury area and other areas in the south west of England, where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" (Hansard 24th March 2004: Col 824W [157949]

And Mr. Reedy, the earth is flat.