Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cumbrian TB outbreak

Having colleagues in the area, we have been alerted several times to the increase in badger numbers in Cumbria. Road kill are increasing, and some have been found dead in fields. But the news last week that a dairy farm near Penrith had been hit, and hit hard with TB is an unwelcome wakeup call.

According to Defra and VLA staff, Cumbria does have its own unique spoligotype when the primary strains of TB are taken down to VNTR (Variable Number Tandem Repeat) detail. And not all the much publicised FMD restock reactors were SW consignees. Some were home grown.

As AHVLA officials continue to investigate the outbreak in this herd, said to be 'closed' and subject to a clear test 18 months ago, one wonders if they will look at other contact possibilities ? For instance untested, unregulated and unidentified alpacas.

Although the Welsh Assembly Government have indicated an intention to include camelids in their TB eradication scheme, England have made no such announcement. And AHVLA still have no right of entry to alpaca premises.

We are not saying that camelids are responsible for this outbreak, it is far too early to make any assumptions, but they should be considered, along with a wildlife interface, if a cattle index case can be ruled out. TB doesn't fly in with the tooth fairy, and 'something' heavily infected with this bacteria has had contact with these Cumbrian cattle. And if none of the 64 reactors have open lung lesions, then that 'something' may be still around, continually infecting the herd.

Update. 28/04

Farmers Guardian are reporting more cattle face slaughter in this outbreak.

And although Cumbrian farmers are heading for panic mode, and insisting the county is 'TB free' and that 'that there had never been TB in Cumbria, and where had it come from?', history has documented and published Cumbrian TB outbreaks, with badger involvement.
The Dunnett Report mentions two badgers with confirmed m. bovis and six cattle breakdowns with badger or 'unknown' (but not cattle) origins prior to 1984. So TB is a published and known problem for the county ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Missing the point....

A new website has started up, to 'Rethink TB. Using some pretty spurious quotes on the efficacy of the skin test, the site concentrates totally on cattle.
It asks why test? Why cull? With milk pasteurisation, cooking of meat - why bother?
The authors also seem to think that vaccination can be their Holy Grail. The cynical amongst us would consider that to be the observation of a 'scientist' with his hand out. Vaccinating anything against tuberculosis, by the very nature of the beast is fraught and difficult. As is any wishful thinking on 'treatment' of this particular bacterium, which has a waxy hard shell, and is notoriously difficult for any drug to reach.

Defra are not killing cattle for the benefit of the farming industry. Neither is protection of infected wildlife anything other than a response to lobby cash. Government have a statutory duty to eradicate this disease from both cattle and wildlife under several international directives which protect human health. Killing cattle while leaving a wildlife reservoir to re-infect, is both ineffective and expensive. Herd breakdowns have mushroomed from their original hotspots three decades ago, to affect up to a third of herds in much of SW England, Wales and the west Midlands. This is reckless in the extreme.

‘Bovine’ tuberculosis is not a disease of cattle; it affects many mammals and human beings. But government inertia will ensure that this ancient and deadly zoonosis, which should have been consigned to history books, will in future affect a wide range of species – including human beings. We posted our opinion in this piece.

The skin test is the universally used primary diagnostic tool for detecting exposure to the bacteria which causes TB, in a herd of cattle. Our PQs told us that its sensitivity / specificity is approaching 100%, when used regularly. And using this test + slaughter of reactors to it, in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, many countries have cleared their cattle herds of TB. Completely.

Taking this a stage further, what has the progressive lack of action by successive administrations on our particular wildlife reservoir over the last three decades, (and none at all since 1997) achieved? Put another way, what are these tested, slaughtered sentinels telling us? And who's listening with ears tight shut?

In the last few years, the overspill of what Defra euphemistically call 'environmental TB' has gone way beyond cattle. And despite only counting culture samples, and only taking one of those, many group animals and domestic pets are dying in their hundreds.

These victims include mammals as diverse as free range pigs, the owners of whom now a TB leaflet all to themselves, and bison. A couple of years ago, we highlighted the spillover into domestic cats and a high profile case in rare breed goats. But the biggest problem has arrived at the door of the highly susceptible GB alpaca population, with a small group of owners now reporting several hundred deaths.

We note that the authors of this new site have neither linked to us (which is understandable) or to alpaca TB website (which is reprehensible) Perhaps a look there would burst a few bubbles.

Our sentinel, tested cattle herds and their slaughtered members are a warning sign which must not be ignored, and to dismiss them is totally missing the point..

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boxter lives to fight another day.

Today a High Court judge squashed the slaughter notice on prize winning British Blonde bull, Hallmark Boxter after his owner, farmer Ken Jackson appealed the procedure.

Farmers Guardian has the story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

RBCT + 4 years.

We have today received a press release from the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales) which we are happy to post in full. (Sorry - no links to the paper.)


The Farmers’ Union of Wales today welcomed figures which show badger culling continues to result in major reductions in TB incidences up to four and a half years after the end of a cull.

Figures published yesterday in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, under the heading “Analysis of further data (to 25 February 2011) on the impacts on cattle TB incidence of repeated badger culling” show a 31.5% reduction in confirmed TB herd incidences in English badger culling areas over the four and a half year period after badger culling ended and a reduction of 37% in the six months to March 2011.

“These figures completely undermine previous claims that the positive effects of badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended,” said FUW vice president and TB spokesman Brian Walters.

“They also provide further evidence that the Welsh Assembly Government and National Assembly for Wales were right to support plans to cull badgers in north Pembrokeshire.

“The way in which the proposed north Pembrokeshire cull has been designed means the overall impact in that area is likely to be significantly better than the results seen in England..

“North Pembrokeshire has geographic boundaries and is almost three times the size of the English trial areas. All the scientific evidence published to date indicates that this will lead to reductions far higher than those seen in the English trial areas,” said Mr Walters.

“The latest results from England show that scientists have previously been wrong to make sweeping statements about the impact of badger culling.

“When the Independent Science Group published its final report in 2007 we pointed out that the overall impact of culling would not be known for years, and were harshly critical of the politically loaded and unscientific claims made in the report.

“These comments continue to be quoted to this day by anti-cull campaigners, especially the claim that culling ‘cannot meaningfully contribute’ to future TB control.

“Yet the latest figures clearly show that culling continues to contribute to ‘future’ TB control, long after culling comes to an end, and we are still waiting for a scientific definition of the word ‘meaningful’,” Mr Walters added.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Badger set-aside.


Dr. Brian May, has come up with a novel solution to the problem of TB. Move out the cattle. Farmers Guardian has the story, which is beautifully illustrated in Ken Wignall's cartoon (apologies for quality ).

Now while Brian was strumming his guitar, and strutting his stuff, it 'may' have escaped his notice that cattle moved out before. In their millions during FMD. And guess what? In the spring of 2001, when the badgers came out to play, there was long grass, no dung pats, no placentas - in fact nothing to encourage a badger (which Dr. Cheeseman is on record as telling us, is totally dependant on cattle habitats) to stay. So they didn't. They upped sticks and legged it to the nearest cattle, as we explained in this posting.

It would be helpful if before launching 'big ideas', Dr. May did a spot of homework.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Wales bring camelids under TB umbrella

On March 31st, the Welsh Assembly Government brought in legislation to cover bTB in camelids. The full document can be viewed here.

England awaits.