Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Air brushing

This posting contains images which should cause distress.

Four years ago, almost to the day, our co-editor blasted the RSPCA and the badger groups with this posting after their collective 'airbrushing' of the effect of tuberculosis on their chosen species.

If you remember, the RSPCA came up with the witheringly simplistic phraseology, that in the latter stages of the tuberculosis, badgers may experience 'a slight wheeziness'.
This was to support the Badger Trust's 'Back off Badgers' campaign.

A dose of Venos, two paracetamol and an (organic) carrot then?

Now much as we hate to burst this cosy bubble - and we too would like all badgers to mirror the one at the top of this posting - too many with tuberculosis, end up like these pics which we list below. All were taken at, or prior to, postmortems which showed them to have generalised, highly infectious and often terminal tuberculosis.

Of badgers taken in Ministry removals 1987 - 97, the area of Broadway in Worcs., came out top of the pile, with over 70 per cent of its badgers showing tuberculous lesions at postmortems.

Tuberculosis is not like a sniffle or a common cold. And although badgers can and do live with the disease, sometimes for years, intermittently shedding copious amounts of bacteria, eventually, this is their end, often after fierce fights.

They maybe diseased and excreting bacteria for 1 - 3 years, but once tuberculosis becomes generalised, they are in a very sorry state indeed. Often excluded from the group, they become what is referred to as 'super excreters'. That is, having tuberculosis in several organs, and capable of excreting huge amounts of infectious material from all of them, which is then available to any mammal unlucky enough to trip over it.

If they have been bitten by a tuberculous assailant, then generalised tuberculosis is often the result.

Behind the puncture wounds, this is the sort of infection they are harbouring. Pints and pints (or litres if you prefer) of pus - all capable of dripping from the original bite wound holes. And with the organisms travelling to other parts of the badgers' body, particularly his lungs and kidneys.

From the outside of the animal, the puncture wounds from inciser teeth appear quite small. Badgers are strictly territorial and will fight to protect their patch, so bite wounds are common. If the assailant has not got tuberculosis, these may heal.

But if it is infected.....

... then tuberculous abcesses form at the entry point. This is the cleaned abscess site of the badger pictured above.

It may be useful to point out that when a badger's kidneys are affected by TB (and this is a common site for lesions) he is capable of excreting up to 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) of bacteria in just 1ml of urine. Badgers are incontinent and will void this indiscriminately across grassland, at 30ml a squirt. It is also used as scent markers and as a 'fright / flight' defence if startled.
About 50 bacteria is enough to provoke a 'reaction' in a tested cow. And she is shot.

The reason for this posting, as we said at the beginning, a mirror image of one four years ago, is this blindingly naive and misleading statement by the Badger Trust, issued last week and criticising farmers for pointing out the effect tuberculosis has on badgers.
“We know of no scientific evidence or authoritative validation for a statement of that kind, though we are, of course, aware that similar but totally unsubstantiated claims have been made repeatedly by pro-cull lobbies in an attempt to emotionally influence the public to support their case,” the Trust said.

Well how about this for 'scientific evidence'.
An emaciated badger, drowning in the fluids issueing from a massive tuberculous pleurisy. This can occur when a lung abscess bursts and affects the surrounding membranes. Pleurisy is extremely painful, and this animal would certainly have shown respiratory distress before death.

That's what tuberculosis does. Abscesses (or lesions) burst or multiply to affect many of the organs of the body, until the animal starves or suffocates to death.

In 2003, on this very point, the 'welfare' of badgers with tuberculosis, we received the following answer from the then minister, Baby-Ben Bradshaw. [142462]
"It is difficult to make objective assessment of whether these animals suffer"
Those pics don't exactly show the individuals in glowing health and comfort - but let that pass...
Typically individuals may live for many months or even years while infected, showing no overt signs of clinical illness and maintaining normal body weights. Infected females often give birth and successfully rear litters.
Which is why they are so bloody successful as a maintenance host. TB kills alpacas who are equally riddled, and tested sentinel cattle, with little infectivety at all, are shot. But we do get the answer eventually, so bear with us:

However, post mortem findings (as our pics ?) where advanced pathological changes have occurred, particularly in the LUNGS ( my emphasis - ed ) indicate that during the final stages of the disease there would undoubtedly be an effect on the quality of life of such an animal. This stage is thought to last a few weeks at most".
Well that's all right then. They only 'suffer' for a few weeks (they think) This animal is drowning in its own body fluids (this is a close up of that 'massive tuberculous pleurisy).

Veterinary scientists advise that this badger would have been in extreme pain, possibly excluded by its peers, certainly starving and probably seeking shelter.

“Badgers have no divine rights over TB and as disease takes hold they lose bodyweight and condition, while the disease processes gradually invade and finally engulf their lungs over a period of many months.

“Proper appraisal will show, as with any species with a slowly developing pneumonia, that respiratory disease signs worsen as disease advances. Also kidney disease frequently occurs and as this can be acutely painful. In the badger this results in a more rapid deterioration of condition.

“Does TB cause painful disease? It is rather naive to assume that it does not.”

Some of these photographs were used to illustrate the following article: "The Cause of ill health and natural death in badgers in Gloucestershire". Gallagher J, Nelson J. and published in Vet Record. 1979 Dec 15;105(24):546-51.
An abstract from the piece, describes cause of death in these animals thus:
During the period 1973 to 1976 inclusive, 1206 badger carcases were examined for evidence of tuberculosis and other diseases. Tuberculosis was the major cause of natural death, killing 39 per cent of the natural death cases, followed by bite wounding and starvation.
But remember the words of the Badger Trust and the RSPCA - a badger does not 'suffer'.

Somebody needs a reality check.


Jo said...

I've just looked at the Badger Trust's site. They say in their letter to jim Fizpatrick 'badgers with active TB infections (i.e. they are excreting bacteria themselves) .... and may live for several years,'. I hope the minister notes that even the Badger Trust recognises that badgers excrete tubercular bacteria for a number of years and that he is suitably alarmed.

Jennifer said...

Could you please post the source of these images? It would be reassuring to see some verification that they actually are images of badgers with bTB; not just pictures of dead badgers with a shoddy "Badger with TB" caption attached.

Your blog makes excellent reading. Thanks for the informative and interesting posts.

Matthew said...

The pics are from badgers postmortemed at Ministry Veterinary Investigation centres, some from previous BROs, some found dead on farmland and then pm'd to confirm bTB.
The veterinary scientists and WLU personnel who took the pics, and in most cases performed the postmortems, have allowed us to use them on the site and also given an overview of what we are looking at. This particularly with the last two, with that mesh of tuberculous pleurisy in an emaciated carcase.
(With the alpaca postmortem photos on previous posts, (more of those to come) we use them with grateful thanks to distraught owners of these animals, as well as their VI vets, for permission to publish and again, professional explanations of what they show.)

Jennifer said...

Thankyou for your reply.

Again, could you post means by which the public can verify that they are photos taken by the Defra Wildlife Unit? Is there a contact from whom any layperson can request the photos? Or evidence of any correspondence with Defra when they gave you an 'overview' of the images?

Kind regards.

Matthew said...

The protective clothing, autopsy sloped drained sink and tweezers may help ? (background in 3 pics). Three others are directly from a power point presentation describing the effect of bTB on badgers, which is offered to interested groups by an ex Ministry veterinary scientist, who was formerly in charge of TB in the SW.
Contact for him, his professional overview and the pictures, can be identified from the link in the post to Farmers Guardian piece, quoting the Badger Trust, "badgers don't suffer."
His opinion is that it is "naive to assume that they do not".

VI centres now put dates and VLA reference tags on their autopsy pics, and the camelid ones have those.

Pics such as these are difficult to source. We have had to rely on the intellectual property rights of the scientists (now retired)who performed the autopsies, and held title to their own photos. And in the case of camelids, the owners of the animals for material from their animals, and permission to publish it.
Some other pictures on the site were within published data in veterinary reference articles.

Matthew said...

We have added a reference link for some of the photos in this posting, which were first published to illustrate an article investigating causes of death of badgers, in the Veterinary Record.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, as the provider of some of these images, I feel somewhat wary of providing you with my details, as I don't know who you are or what your real intentions might be ? You could be anybody masquerading as " an interested party". Publish your full details, your name, address and work contact details and I may consider, and I stress the may", advising you of where they came from and when. Why you can't accept them at face value I don't know. Do you really think we are in the game of falsifying such images just for the impact they give ? All of them are real and original, and they show the effect that bTB has on badgers in the latter stages of the disease. Having them detailed in the Veterinary Times should give you the reassurance you are asking for. By the way, do you ask the same questions of the Badger Trust when they issue misleading and untrue statements on how badgers don't suffer when clearly they do ?

gavin.wheeler said...

"he is capable of excreting up to 300,000ml of bacteria in just 1ml of urine"
(emphasis added)

I don't think you mean that do you? I have visions of super-compressed badger urine exploding as soon as it reaches the outside air!

Matthew said...

Have edited this - 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) is the relevant figure per 1ml of urine, from a badger with kidney lesions.
Senior moment.
With thanks.

gavin.wheeler said...

Happens to all of us, Matthew!

Whatever our disagreements on the preferrred way to deal with bovine TB, best of wishes with your own herd.