It is not unusual that badger setts are several hundred years old. They consist out of various dens and chambers, well connected and spread out over some 20 to 50 yards 1 to 10 feet underground. Badgers are night active creatures and during wintertime they spend most time sleeping or dosing socially cuddled up in their dormitories ( see BBC Autumn or Spring Watch ). In the open the family of a sett normally has a territory of up to 1 or even 2 square miles which is well defined and regularly marked by urine and latrines. In the dens and chambers the climate being obscure with sticky air and steady temperatures of some 10 - 20 degrees is ideal for numerous bacteria and other germs.Successive tweaks to the Protection of Badgers Act, have awarded this delightful animal cult status and its home a Grade 1 listing - with an inevitable knock-on effect transferred to Animal Health veterinarians' methods of control under section 10 of the Act. And the badger population, when assessed by members of the Mammal Society increased by 77 per cent over the decade 1987- 97, as Dr. Zellweger points out:
The Badger Act protects "brock" since 1992 hence the population is growing steadily. As data show this goes along with a continuously increasing of bovine Tuberculosis in cattle, alpacas, other domestic species and "brocks" of course.
Any average sett is occupied by a bigger family with a very well organised pecking order. There is one boss and a dominant sow: the total size of the group may be up to a dozen or more. When youngsters move away they have to look out for their own habitat and territory. If they intrude occupied territories they sooner or later are expelled - sometimes after fierce rows. Where do they go to? And where does a diseased animal go to? There are farmyards with muckheaps, sheds and haystacks with mice and troughs with rests of grains or cereals offering shelter and easy food. In summer cattle drink from water troughs in the fields - in any dry summer spell an easy supply for badgers. What when such a weakened or diseased brock - or a dead one - is detected by Pink Panther Toby cat or one of the pack of sheepdogs on the farm?
A description of the effects of this disease, and opportunities for its spread:
Bovine TB ( bTB ) as we know is a very chronic disease affecting various mammal species including people. The most common spreading is by exhaling including coughing for the lungs are "hosting" so called tubercles, which consist out of masses of bacteria either alive ( and therefore well infectious ) or digested by macrophages as defence of the immune system. Every tubercle is a focus of infection and can be an abscess of up to an inch size full of typical crumbly pus. When bacteria are swept via blood or lymph flow systems, they may land in other organs like the kidneys, liver, intestine, saliva glands or skin, where identically after weeks pus can result. Therefore we speak of pulmonary, renal, liver, intestinal or skin TB. Urine of a badger with renal TB can contain 300’000 bacteria per ml. A badger may urinate 4 - 6 times a day some 30 - 80 ml each time. My calculator shows this rises to shedding per day of some 10 times the amount RBS topmanager Stephen Hester gets as bonus for last year earned with public cash ( 90 million germs ). A bit crazy maybe? For a new infection with bTB it would need some 100 - 500 bacteria only.And on the 'treatment' of bTB in animals?
When badgers fight the risk of scratches and wounds is very high. In a healthy badger these heal out in due time. When bTB is involved it is different. The very slow multiplying bacteria will sooner or later cause smelly excretions, wild flesh and pus which might be infectious - permanently or temporarily. Wounds may be licked every now and then by the very badger or by his mates even. New infection is around the corner, but this time in the intestine.
If a sow with bTB has cubs - or any other sibling of the same sett has got TB - these youngsters may get infected in their very first weeks of life by her own mother. bTB causes a very slow death after suffering over months or even more than a year. Hell - or perhaps worse? What a life prospectus!
Animals with bTB should never be treated hence the slaughtering of some 40,000 head of cattle per year. Even vaccination ( with unreliable BCG ) cannot prevent that further bTB spreading occurs. Antibiotics are not practical for they would have to be applied in adequate daily individual dosage for several months, nota bene causing resistance of other germs in grand style. Contraceptives for various reasons are no option either.
People with bTB are treated with high doses of a combination of 3 different antibiotics over 6 or more months with full success never guaranteed….
Worldwide TB causes millions of victims every year; the main part of those are caused by the human strain Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but bTB ( Mycobacterium bovis ) is equally infectious and dangerous for people.
Dr. Zellweger ends this piece warning "England beware!"