Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tuberculosis - as it is.

Further to the Side effects - A request thread which we posted in May, one alpaca owner filmed the side effect of the skin test, which appeared within a couple of hours of the tuberculin antigen jab on an alpaca subsequently found to have generalised TB. The video shows this side effect.
This animal is gasping for breath, its lungs already destroyed by this disease, are now seriously compromised. This is not pretty.

This is the reality of tuberculosis - speeded up to 'end stage'.

Prior to the tuberculin antigen skin test jab, this alpaca appeared perfectly healthy. She was euthanased and found to have generalised TB. Dianne Summers tells us that she too had an alpaca react in this way:
"I had this happen on one of my animals and it is horrific when you experience it. He recovered fully the next day BUT as with all the others was found at postmortem to be riddled with TB".
NB: Dianne also explains that on the video, when the owner describes an 'injection' he means the tuberculin antigen jab, given on day 1 of the intradermal skin test.

Dianne's small group of 28 alpaca owners who have experienced this in their animals, report 22 instances. In four cases, the animal either died or was euthanased on welfare grounds before the reading of the skin test, 72 hours later. All the animals in this group had appeared, as we described the animal on the video clip, perfectly healthy prior to the jab. All of the animals who experienced this reaction were subsequently found at post mortem, to have generalised tuberculosis. Of the 22, only 3 had failed the skin test. Most passed - if they were alive for it to be read. Of the animals remaining, some subsequently failed a blood test, some died and others were volunteered to AHO after showing signs of TB.

We are grateful to the the Alpaca TB Support group, for this information, and to Di Summers for patiently collating it. Ms. Summers would like us to add, that the importance of monitoring alpacas after a skin test should not be underestimated.
She strongly recommends that owners isolate (with a companion) any animals showing this type of reaction - even if they appear to have recovered. The data gathered thus far would indicate that this 'reaction' to an introduction of tuberculin antigen in the skin test, is far more accurate than the test itself. All the animals affected have proved to be riddled with tuberculosis, regardless of the measured result of the test.

The effect of Tuberculosis on lungs tissue is illustrated in this pm slide of alpaca lungs. Very little of the lung remains able to function: the examining veterinary pathologist estimated only about 20 per cent.

If you remember - and we do - the RSPCA, in a considerable underestimate of its descriptive powers, described tuberculosis in badgers as 'A slight wheeziness' helpfully adding that:
"In the few badgers that do have symptoms, they are wheeziness and loss of weight and condition. There may be some skin ulceration."

So that's OK then? OK for badgers to die, drowning in their own body fluids, - as long as that death is unseen and its route progress airbrushed?

Anyone still under the impression that tuberculosis - or consumption as it used to be called in human beings - is a small inconvenient blip, or that any mammal suffering its end stages is not actually 'suffering', needs a reality check.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

'Healthy wildlife - a prerequisite for healthy humans'.

The latest newsletter issued by Florida based 'One Health', opens with an observation on the interaction between human beings, animals and the environment.
It describes two basic types of 'intrusions':
The first involves the intrusion of new and expanding human communities into uninhabited areas utilized by free-ranging wildlife. The second type of intrusion involves the colonization and/or seasonal uses of these communities by free-ranging wildlife. Both situations will continue to increase in association with the increasing human population and landscape changes that displace wildlife from their historic habitat.
While pointing out that in general, this interaction is not a cause for concern, nevertheless, with some diseases caution is needed. The author points out that this is because:
"In general, there is an absence of any coordinated approach for disease detection and reporting for many of the species groups beyond that independently carried out by specific interests. When infectious disease emergence is detected, timely response often is impeded by jurisdictional and social issues that serve to advance disease spread and establishment."
He continues,
"The wildlife ingredients within this “mixing bowl” are the most difficult to address because, unlike human and domestic animal health programs, there is no formal wildlife health infrastructure that links regulatory authorities, responsibilities for wildlife wellbeing, and disease reporting with dedicated agency programs for combating disease occurring among various wildlife populations. Instead collaborative efforts involving an informal coalition of various agencies, and interests, may become involved in any specific event. For example, it is common for the public to submit impaired wildlife to private sector wildlife rehabilitators. These individuals and programs have varying capacity to determine if infectious disease is involved or to prevent disease spread within their facilities."
Here, the author was talking about the USA, but he could just as easily have referred to the UK and bTB. With Defra, VLA, AHOs and veterinary surgeons operating independently of each other, and selectively from doctors and the HPA.

Another quote points out that pathogens do not indulge in specific species preference, and might be able to circulate in and between different animal populations, including wildlife, and people. The conclusion, is that
... healthy wildlife is a prerequisite for healthy humans.

Appearing in this medico/veterinary/environmental publication One Health is an update on the badger 'management' initiative which we posted here. (See p.7 of the 'One Health' pdf)
Author Richard Gard, describes the operating protocol:

"Working in areas of ten square miles, the activity of the badgers, their territories and the location of unhealthy or ‘skanky’ badgers are assessed and their location matched on a map with the location of the cattle. The farm boundaries and land ownership cease to be important. Many farms have parcels of land separated from one another. The picture that this provides is extremely interesting to the farmers and their veterinary surgeons and offers a means of reducing the transfer of infection. The planned programme is to achieve Healthy Badgers and Healthy Cattle."
This initiative involves not only farmers, but their vets, maps of farms and detail of land where reactor cattle have grazed. An overlay of badger setts and territories is then applied to this data. Cattle testing clear, and the badgers associated with their grazing areas are seen as as important as the TB reactor areas.

This postmortem pic is of a hugely emaciated badger with tuberculous pleurisy. Did it 'suffer'? A veterinary pathologist wryly points out that "it would be naive to assume that it did not". It is also naive to assume that prior to a very painful death, this badger did not share its burden of disease.

Mr. Gard's article continues on the theme of protecting healthy badgers:
Our observations show that the herds in areas with healthy badgers do not have the problem of repeated bovine TB. Farmers do need healthy badgers and by participating in the work cattlemen have shown a willingness to co-operate in this, even if in nothing else. The badgers also need help to prevent the spread of TB within their population. In many TB hotspot areas healthy badgers are in decline.
Further information on this project are available from Mr. Gard. Contact details at

Copies of a film showing the basics of this initiative, can be obtained from : at £4.99 inc postage.

Another bTB article in One Health, appearing just below that written by Richard Gard, explains the problems of wild boar as wildlife vectors of bTB in North America. The author warns of the folly of letting bTB establish in feral swine populations :
"At the strategic level, federal and state officials have called for the establishment of a coordinated, comprehensive feral swine control program. To succeed, such a program would likely require legislation and regulatory changes,
coupled with a sustained multidimensional effort involving public education, law enforcement, and feral swine population suppression.
Current efforts to control feral swine, which differ widely among states, are fragmented and only marginally effective.

He concludes with an observation that is is equally valid in the UK:
History has shown that once bovine TB becomes established in a wildlife population, it is very difficult to eradicate the disease. "

One could add that as the longer bTB is allowed to establish, the more difficult and expensive it becomes to eradicate, the sooner we start, the better.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cost v. benefit ( or skewing the numbers)

Much is made of the alleged cost of culling badgers aka the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. And as both we and the trial managers have said, this proved 'ridiculously expensive for what it delivered'.

The quoted figure for each square kilometre of the RBCT cage trapped areas was £3,800, which at x badgers per is nothing short of - crazy.
This figure first surfaced in the Defra publication, 'Cost Benefit analysis of Badger management as a component of Bovine TB control in England', as £3,799 and neatly rounded up, has passed unhindered into TB numbers.
An 'Opinion' piece in Farmers Guardian (sorry, no link) this week, has drawn our attention to yet another Defra anomaly surrounding this assumption.

Jim Webster has placed two documents side by side. The ISG tome "Bovine TB : The Scientific Evidence, A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to control TB in Cattle .. blah, blah, blah..' And the 'Impact Assessment of Amendments to legislation to allow the Vaccination of Badgers by persons other than Veterinary Surgeons.'

In both processes, areas are mapped, setts identified and cage traps set. In the case of the now defunct Vaccination Trial, large mesh English cages with 2 x 2 inch mesh (capable of taking a shot via any aperture) (In the case of the WAG cull, cages were designed shorter, with smaller mesh from which anything daft enough to enter had to be translocated to be shot.)

The RBCT used the 2 x 2 inch large mesh cages and PQs told us of the wastage for this type of high profile operation thus:
"..... Management records indicate that - over 116 culling operations, across 19 trial areas, between December 1998 and 10th October 2003, during which 15,666 traps were sited - there were 8981 individual occasions where a trap was interfered with, and 1827 individual occasions when a trap was removed."
 (Ref: Hansard 8th Dec 2003 Col 218W [ 141971]
Thus almost 70 percent of traps proved useless - and a published a cost of £3,800 per . Leading to the conclusion that this method of badger culling, would too expensive.

But the Vaccination Trial, using exactly the same cages and protocol published a annual cost of £1,440 per sq. km. for trapping and vaccinating badgers.

As Jim says, to account for the £2,360 per difference, and as they were providing the vaccine, Defra must 'be paying way over the odds for the 0.22 hollow point ammunition'.

(Or have the illegal antics of the Animal Rights Activists during the RBCT cost the taxpayer £2,360 per ?)

On the other hand, the pen pushers advising Defra and the WAG Ministers, may be somewhat economic with their information on culling, over enthusiastic about vaccinating infected badgers - and a tad skewed confused with their numbers.

As Jim Webster says,
"At the very least Defra is going to have to go back and prepare these figures properly this time, and ideally under the supervision of competent professionals".

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good news for m.bovis bacteria

It was announced this morning that the Welsh Assembly Government have lost their high court Appeal for a cull of badgers in the TB hotspot area of north Pembrokeshire.

Excellent news for m.bovis, the bacteria which cause TB, but seriously bad news for badgers, cattle, alpacas, cats, dogs, sheep, goats and possibly children, sharing their space and increasingly exposed to their spread.

High Court judgement is here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Simplifications debunked.

During these last weeks, several publications have carried some very simplistic comments on past strategies to control bTB in this country. Mainly they are along the lines of this rant by superannuated pop star and newly qualified stargazer, Dr. Brian May.

We have aired this chart before but it is important to see (we think) how, as badger control was progressively sanitised over time, cattle TB increased. Indeed, we are now told that was 'expected'. Well nice of the vets and MAFF to alert cattle farmers to this wasn't it? Cattle testing did not change over this time, in fact it increased as more herds went under restriction and needed six tests annually instead of one, and more parishes came under the annual testing net. England has always had a strict 'lock down' of herds revealing reactors. But Dr. May, following the lead from the Badger Trust's various spokes-persons argues that 'history shows badger culling does not work as a method for controlling bTB'.

We would say that our chart, together with explanations for ongoing 'badger friendly' exceptions to culling, shows that it did. From the early 1970s, when stringent cattle only measures in Glos and Cornwall were failing, badger setts close to persistently affected farms were gassed. No exceptions. No 'closed season' so that a sow could infect her cubs, and no waiting around for permission from various focus groups.
The CVO reports from the mid 70's finally recorded a drop in cattle slaughterings.

The number of cattle slaughtered in GB during 1982 was 605.

The Clean Ring strategy (1982 - 86) used the information from the cattle tests and gassed badgers in rough circle up to 7km from the outbreak, until badgers postmortemed clear of TB. The change to cage traps during this period showed a slight increase in cattle TB but was still workable - although fraught with opportunities for interference such as the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial suffered. And the relocation of 'rescued' TB-takeaways didn't help disease control, but obviously gave the rescuers a warm glow.

In 1987, the number of cattle slaughtered in GB was 1183.

But in that year (1987) the most significant sanitisation occurred when the Interim Strategy reduced the land available to the WLUs for trapping to just 1km, and then only on land grazed by cattle. So if the sett was in an arable field, fenced woodland or on a neighbouring farm, the WLU couldn't touch it. Finally after £1 million bung from the PAL in 1997, gov'ment introduced the moratorium on Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act and MAFF / Defra refused to issue licenses to control disease.

In 1997 GB slaughtered 3760 cattle, and one year after the moratorium 6083.

Our chart uses MAFF / Defra cattle slaughter figures to log the difference these sanitising tweaks to badger control made to the disease in cattle. And Dr. May is mistaken if he genuinely believes that cattle testing and movement restrictions over this time were in any way loosened. They have progressively tightened as hotspots expanded.

And of course his (and the Badger Trust's) wide generalisations fall apart when the same TB testing of cattle in other countries which either do not support a wildlife reservoir of disease, or take parallel measures to control it, have cleared their cattle herds completely. The number of cattle found with TB by slaughterhouse inspections do not support this assumption of a huge hidden reservoir either.

Then there are Defra's carefully crafted spoligotype maps showing a consistent strain in one area. Not a hotchpotch which there would be, if cattle continually and over the decades this data has been collated, had moved TB around the country.

Dr. May is quoted in FG article as "citing the Independent Scientific Group’s (ISG) 2008 report and subsequent updates based on continuing monitoring of the cull areas as the scientific proof."

Now that is interesting. Just this week we hear from the lead ex ISG mathematical modeller that although her electronic abacus is showing sustained reductions in TB across all the proactive areas of the RBCT, her input data (details of which was not shouted loud enough for us to hear) indicate that although a badger cull reduces cattle TB, it would be too expensive. In fact Christl Donnelly went so far as to say it would take "12 years to recoup the cost". This was on Sky News (no link)
And with that we would agree. Culling badgers as done in the RBCT showed us exactly how not to do it. Launching into a highly infectious population for just 8 nights, using cage traps just once a year - if you were lucky. Ridiculous - as key bits of this EFRAcom submission from a trial manager explain:
5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activists, to be able to trap badgers anywhere, in order to eliminate them. That was only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

6. Limited trapping - eight days per year with Krebbs - has little effect if carried out late in the year. The effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull.

7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. [ snipped ]
Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.

But as we have said before when we explored the original Krebs' protocol and compared to the the 'political science' John Bourne was sooooooooo proud to deliver, this exercise was designed to fail.

At its outset, both vets and trial managers say they were told by the diminutive professor, "this is a cattle disease, and will be treated as such". End of story.

But a change came in 2004, with a new trial manager appointed, protocol loosened (as explained above), traps laid on badger trails and more diseased ones were caught.

Thus the 2008 update report from Jenkins et al, after cattle tests caught up with this change, saw a reversal of Bourne's unique 'halo' effect - his reason for dismissing badger culling in the 2007 report - and that improvement in cattle TB both within the proactive areas and around them was intensified and sustained in Donnelly's publication of 2010.

Can you see their little brains ticking ? ... "Good grief, this wasn't meant to happen ...."

Cattle slaughterings have dropped a little in the first couple of months of this year, compared with 2009's figure of 36,322. And inevitably this is used as an excuse to say 'cattle measures must be working'. But the only 'cattle measure' which is newish, preMT, was introduced in 2006, and that would (should?) find more reactors, not less. So what is happening?

1. Across all ten RBCT proactive areas, incidence of cattle TB has dropped. And much to the chagrin of the ISG team, that drop is continuing.

2. We've had a lot of UV sunlight this spring, which is death for m.bovis deposited on pasture in a short period of time. Dull, wet weather extends its survival.

3. Imported Dutch tuberculin antigen was introduced for testing in June/July 2009. And the last time this happened, in 2006, the cattle slaughterings similarly dropped, with the CVO's report of that year explaining:
"The comparison of the tuberculin data, indicates to date that a proportion of VL animals [ ] differs significantly between Weybridge and Dutch PPD batches, with the Weybridge results having a smaller % of VLs.

The authors of the report say that there are two ways of interpreting this, but conclude that the following is most likely:
"The sensitivity of the combined Dutch PPDs is less, because of failing to pick up NVLs (animals which could be in the early stages of disease) which may or may not be confirmed with culture, to the same extent as Weybridge PPDs. This would result in under detection of cases, resulting in a transient decline in cases reported, despite there being no true decline in cases."
Thus the incidence of bTb may not be dropping significantly, but the incidence of its detection, especially in the early pre visible lesion stages, was.
If this is the case again, then we will see a greater number of lesioned reactors this summer and later.

4. Areas of the country with deep, entrenched TB problems are said to be exploring a management plan.

5. Defra tweaked the interpretation of IRs on severe on January 1st this year, with a new test chart, leading to less severe interpretation IRs slaughtered..

All will have had an impact on numbers of reactors.

And so to the latest money spinner. Biosecurity.

Despite Dr. May's and the Badger Trusts' outraged howls that bTB is all about cattle, Defra and others have spent an inordinate amount of effort printing guidelines of how to keep badgers away from cattle. Much is as useful as a wet paper bag, and is contradicted by research which Defra the taxpayer has funded.

The big one is trough height. Still the figure of 30 inches is quoted. Why? Defra know full well from Dr. Tim Roper's reserach that badgers can easily access cattle feed in troughs over 4 feet high. And at that height, our PQs kindly tell us, 'cattle cannot reach to eat'. Quite.

Our PQs also told us that while cattle will avoid faeces on their grazing ground, they cannot avoid the yard long trails of urine voided by incontinent wandering badgers.

And then there is electric fencing. Fence 'em out - that'll sort it. But in their evidence to EFRAcom, the Wildlife Trusts explained that badgers are the main predator of bees' and wasps' nests. So, if thousands of angry bees stinging their nose didn't put them off - what chance electric fences?

This was such a nest - which became badger MacDonalds. All that is left are two pieces of honeycomb - and some seriously angry occupants. So before anyone launches into this sort of advice, they had better be sure that it will work.

And they would do well to remember the words of the retired director of Woodchester Park, Dr. Chris Cheeseman, who, when asked how to keep badgers and cattle apart, replied "You can't, you get rid of your cattle".