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.....