Friday, November 30, 2012

Spoligotyping gets headlines.

Making headlines in the Daily Telegraph today is a study by Glasgow University on the different strains or 'spoligotypes' of m.bovis circulating between tested, slaughtered sentinel cattle, and free ranging badgers in which Tuberculosis is endemic.

We have discussed this many times and quoted a previous Parliamentary question to explain what 'spoligotyping' means:
"Spoligotyping is used to determine molecular type for all isolates of the bovine tuberculosis bacillus (M. bovis) obtained from badgers and cattle. Variable Number Tandem Repeats (or VNTR), a technique able to subdivide some spoligotypes, is also used. Generally the different strain types of M. bovis that these techniques identify exhibit distinct and probably longstanding geographical clustering. Within each geographical cluster the same strains tend to be found in badgers and cattle ".

So there is nothing really 'new' in this research, which can be read on this link.

VLA have been logging the spoligotypes of bTB for decades now, and produced some very clear maps to show the spatial clustering on the twelve main strains.

And we have pointed out that if cattle were spreading TB across the country as much as some would have us believe, then these maps would be a pointillist picture of a mass of colours and not spatially distinct at all.

Farmers Guardian also covered this subject in this 2007 article, with overviews from people uniquely qualified to speak on TB, its microbiology and epidemiology.


What seems to be the core of the new research is that the VNTR (Variable Number Tandem Repeats) copies of m.bovis DNA have been found to be identical in badgers and cattle on the same farms.

 'Not unsurprisingly' they were identical on the farm of one of our contributers, one who had no bought in cattle, but let that pass.

And the same observation is made of dead cats. After a death due to 'bovine' tuberculosis, the strain type is described as being the spoligotype 'unique to the area'.

We understand that in some areas where sentinel cattle have all gone, domestic cats are now filling the gaps of VLA's spoligotype maps. They use alpacas, sheep and pigs too..... and the spoligotypes, right down to VNTR copies, are likely to be just the same: "unique to the area".

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comments from the 'qualified'.

This country appears to be giving considerable airtime to people uniquely unqualified to comment on control and eradication of possibly the biggest killer of human beings on earth. Tuberculosis. So for a change we will offer the views of people who do have the qualifications to support their points of view.

Firstly, we are grateful for sight of  two letters on vaccination using BCG, from Dr. Lewis Thomas, whose job description included the licensing of pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly a letter published in the veterinary press late last year, commenting on the vaccination of badgers:
There are a number of remarkable features concerning the proposed joint project that you report recently between the Badger Trust and the NFU (19.12.11) not least the apparent realisation by the Badger Trust that badgers are infected by and suffer from bovine TB.
Similar proposals to vaccinate badgers against bovine TB in the field have been made earlier this year by the National Trust and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust which the President of BVA, Carl Padgett, has rightly and roundly condemned as “unrealistic at best and spin at worst”.
All parties should realise that a proven vaccine against bovine TB currently does not exist for use in the field either for cattle or for badgers. Although the injectable Badger BCG vaccine (the only vaccine licensed for use in the UK) gives a measure of protection from disease in naïve badgers following experimental challenge with live tubercle bacilli it does not prevent infection or shedding of the organism. And the vaccine has not yet been properly trialled in the field.
A small scale study on 262 animals reported last December by FERA may have shown encouraging serological evidence of vaccine efficacy but this alone cannot be regarded as evidence of protection. Protection can only be assessed by comparison of disease in vaccinated as compared to control animals in a properly controlled field trial. And this does not appear to be part of the protocols proposed by the National Trust, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust or the Badger Trust/NFU projects.
Vaccination is therefore currently not a realistic strategy for controlling the disease: moreover prospects for it becoming so are not encouraging. BCG has been in existence for nearly a century and attempts to improve it over the years, particularly recently, have not met with success. But even a potent proven vaccine cannot be expected to be effective in the face of the massive burden of infection that presently exists in parts of the badger population (over 30% infected in some areas). Thus unless and until this massive reservoir of infection is removed by strategic culling of badgers little or no progress will be made in controlling the disease.
And following the BBC Panorama programme, a letter published recently in the Veterinary Times:
There is a major flaw, amongst many, in the letter from your correspondents McGill and others (24.9.12). A proven, effective vaccine either for badgers or cattle does not exist. And the chances of one becoming available are remote. Scientists have been trying without success for over a century to improve on the BCG vaccine. Professor Boyd (chief scientific adviser to DEFRA) and Nigel Gibbens (CVO) writing in the Daily Telegraph recently (letter 22.9.12) are probably right when they say that the Badger BCG vaccine will not protect infected badgers.
But what we do know for certain is that the vaccine has never been proven or tested properly in the field and that the National Trust, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Welsh Government are embarking on a highly speculative and hugely expensive strategy with little or no prospect of success.
And what we also know for certain is that culling of badgers in endemically infected areas, as demonstrated in 5 trials in England and Ireland in the 70’s and 80’s, dramatically reduces the the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. Even the seriously flawed Randomised Badger Culling Trials realised a 23% reduction in bovine TB in associated cattle herds.
Whilst we may have reservations about the effectiveness of the method of culling chosen by DEFRA in the forthcoming trials (see our letter to Vet Record 7.1.12) the choice of strategy is a no brainer – untested vaccine against proven culling strategy. All that has been lacking for the last 30 years, as pointed out by Norman Leslie in his letter to your paper (30.7.12), is the political will to do the right thing. It is to be hoped and expected that Owen Paterson MP, the new secretary state for DEFRA is of sterner stuff.
We have quoted Dr L.H.Thomas, MA, VetMB, PhD, FRCPath, MRCVS before, in this 2009 posting, where he discussed the use of BCG on an untested badger population.

Perhaps a reason for the Badger Trust to support a PCR screen, and only jab the clean ones?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who do you think you're kidding...

A brilliant Dad's Army skit on the current crazy stand off, is given by farmer and commentator Stephen Carr in this week's Farmers Weekly.  Enjoy.
A group of late middle-aged men dressed in camouflaged combat fatigues with blackened faces and with twigs and leaves sown into their balaclavas gather in a church hall somewhere in the Forest of Dean.
Captain Paterson: Fall the men in, Sergeant Heath.
Sergeant Heath: Would you mind terribly falling in, pleeease?
Paterson: (mutters) Typical Lib Dem.
Corporal Kendall: Fall in for the Captain, on the double!
Heath: (rolling his eyes skyward) Thank you, Kendall. The men are ready, sir.
Paterson: Now, men, you've all been in training for this badger cull. You've got your deerstalker level one certificate and...
Kendall: (interrupting) Permission to speak, sir?
Paterson: (irritated) Yes, Kendall, what is it?
Kendall: (suddenly brandishing his rifle) Those furry wurry badgers - they don't like it up 'em, sir!
The comments below this FW piece are depressingly familiar. Of course it's a bloody serious subject. And we only wish that Defra would take it thus. You'd prefer we all shot each other? (Rhetorical question)
Three cattle from one of our contributors paid the ultimate price for this arrogant complacency last week, but despite this we can still appreciate the humour in this piece. As we did in a previous piece by cattle farmer Stephen Carr, who at the time of writing that article in 2009 was under continuous TB restriction but being invited to train as a badger vaccinater..

On the subject of vaccination, he concluded:
"No futile gesture is too much trouble provided it helps get a politician out of a difficulty of his own making."
And taking the lead from Mr. Carr's current article,  those of us losing sentinel, tested cattle to badger TB, can say with absolute certainty that Defra, FERA, NE, BBC, NFU  'don't like it up 'em'. Sir.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Field based tests for bTB

As we continue to stitch together a workable alternative to the now postponed Son-of- RBCT shooting parties, a solid and reliable field test for m.bovis in the field is a priority. Thus far, we would propose the following:

 Firstly, use AHVLA risk assessment TB99 reactor locations to map problems over a wide area. These are already done, thus incurring no extra cost - but they lie gathering dust, as they did in the RBCT. And any reactor would suffice - there are enough varieties now to choose from. Take your pick.

Secondly a farmer / Wildlife Unit trace to overlay a wildlife interface map with such reactor locations could involve farmer participation, thus reducing costs again.

 Thirdly the location of any wildlife sharing the location of reactors identified by steps 1 and 2, would benefit from a 'scientific' thumbs up. But that has to be through true 'science'. Not the smoke and mirrors of a simple mathematical model based on vague assumptions, which like the Emperor's new clothes, none but a very few dare question.

 And while the now validated PCR test is our favourite as a sett based screen, a close second could be an American ELISA antibody test which, it's manufacturers tell us, has gained OIE approval, and can give a result in the field in 3 hours. Although primarily their predicted use is cattle based, one assumes (perhaps wrongly ?) that this test would work for badgers too.

And another field based test is described by the University of Tennessee research team as 'giving results in 5 minutes'. It is said to work on defining markers in body fluids such as blood, milk, saliva or tears - which sounds suspiciously like PCR to us. They describe the kit thus:
With this device the incubation time is significantly reduced when compared with conventional immunoassay methods (e.g. ELISA tests) and experimental data shows the device takes less than 5 minutes to differentiate disease-positive samples from negative samples. The device does not require direct/indirect labeling of the analyte (antibody, biomarkers) and can be used with any combination of probes (e.g. antigen) and analytes (e.g. serum antibody).

The one-step method is not labor intensive, does not require a specialist to run the test and ensures consistency in results. Also, because of the small size and of the automated one-step method, the system allows on-site (bed-side, in-field) diagnosis of pathological and physiological conditions, reducing time and costs associated with remote testing in diagnostic laboratory. This device has been tested on Johne’s disease and bovine tuberculosis, and the results show a higher accuracy than currently-available diagnostic immunoassays."
UPDATE: Link added with more detail on the University of Tennessee's field based test, which they confirm would cost around $500 for the kit, with each screen (chip) costing $1.
The manufacturers of at least one of these in field tests also confirm that they are working with FERA on field trials for the product.

 The ISG mentioned an ELISA test in their Final Report - then damning it's low sensitivity:
1.7 [] ... A live test for badgers had been developed and subject to trial from 1994-96, but its sensitivity was much poorer than had been hoped, successfully detecting only about 40% of infected badgers (Clifton-Hadley et al., 1995-and Woodroffe et al., 1999)
We have no details on the sensitivity of IDEXX's blood assay, but it is to be hoped that it may be an improvement on the old 'Brock' test, as well as being faster and field based. And of course that they are able to cage trap more than a few wild badgers on which to use it. We say this guardedly having listened to a prominent farmer trialling vaccination, and describing efforts to capture his sett occupants, which resulted in just one being trapped in an operation lasting  several weeks.

It may be also prudent to point out that the Wildlife Unit personal, trying to sign up farmers for the RBCT, tell us that over half in some areas refused to take part, when they heard that healthy badgers were to be culled as well as diseased. And the badger 'Live Test Trial' ( 1994-96) experienced no problems at all as only diseased badgers were targeted.

 It is our understanding that the direct target of a positively identified reservoir of a zoonotic pathogen trumps any more emotive considerations for the continued survival of that reservoir. And once identified, should it be left to upspill disease into other mammals, then litigation is a distinct possibility. Which the cynical amongst us would say is possibly enough reason for the current political block wall against such targeted identification.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Defra's new Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, MP visited China on a trade mission last week. And in his usual acerbic and perceptive way, cartoonist Ken Wignall pictures a possible GB export, with samples to show the Chinese.

Published in the Farmers Guardian, (16th November 2012), the strap line is;

 "We're very sorry Mr Paterson, we understand your problem but you can’t leave them here!”
 That's a 'no' from the Chinese then?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Babies and bath water

In our posting below we added a little padding to how a very selective cull of badgers infected with tuberculosis might be framed. But concentrating entirely on PCR, in a can't do, won't do piece, Badger Trust person David Williams, explains why the Trust don't support question this approach.
Mr. William's points are in quote boxes, with our answers below:
Did the sample come from cattle, badgers, foxes or other wildlife that could have walked through a farmyard, field or cow pat, any of them carrying infection?
We have the 'canaries' Mr. Williams. The sentinels. Try 34,000 cattle last year, a shed load of alpacas, sheep, pigs and even domestic pets. Thus the initial Risk Assessment and field maps of reactor location (any sort) gives AHVLA case managers the location of the problem(s.) And if badger groups (the animals, not their protectors, but ... ?) were baited with small (different) coloured beads or fluoresced powder, tracking from individual setts would show which group or individual was occupying the same land.
Prof. Krebs proposed following 'badger boundaries' in 1996, and he was quite correct. Only then would this be followed up by sett test on latrines, bedding or even air from a sett so identified.
Did the sample come from a live badger or a long-dead one?
If it was a long dead badger, he would hardly be likely to be leaving fresh deposits in latrines or changing his bed regularly (unless they are ghostly deposits)
If taken from soil did it come from a badger?
Again it is not just soil, but say soil in sett entrance, fresh latrines or any material associated with the group. So cross contamination unlikely.
If a positive sample was found in a sett, would you catch and kill all the badgers in that sett?
Yes because it would show that the TB bacteria was present in the sett so even if some badgers were not yet infectious it is very likely they would become so in time. The presence of m.bovis bacteria in the sett (humid, dark and most) offers the ideal situation for survival of this bacterium, and transmission. See PQs:  

"Mr. Paterson: To ask [] what evidence there is that viable M. bovis bacilli remaining in badger setts?
Mr. Bradshaw: M. bovis survival is promoted by low levels of sunlight, low to moderate temperatures and high relative humidity. A typical badger sett experiences 100 per cent. relative humidity at all times of year, a fairly constant temperature, which is always higher than ambient temperature and almost total darkness. Hence, although no quantitative studies have been carried out, it seems possible that M. bovis bacilli could remain viable in badger setts long enough to infect badgers during recolonisation."
Would you catch and then test beside setts where an infected sample was found?
No. Testing of individual badgers (with only the positive ones culled) would cause perturbation by breaking up the social group. And see PQ answer above, the uninfected ones would become infectious via their sett or latent infection, over time.
A positive sample from inside a sett could be from a badger not normally living in that sett or a fox using it temporarily.
PCR would not be used as a stand alone tool, but in connection with tracing reactor (cattle, pig, alpaca, sheep, buffalo) movements. This after AHVLA risk assessment to rule out movement on to farm or confirm a wildlife source for the reactor. See point 1.
PCR could then pinpoint infection after the first two stages. There is no need to take samples from every sett, just those flagged up by such mapping and bait marking. If the positive samples were gathered either from a 'disperser' badger (one not normally living in that sett and excluded from its normal group) or a fox,  if they are carrying m.bovis then they are a risk to all other mammals and should be culled.
 The target of eradication is not any particular species, but b.Tuberculosis.
If you don't identify and test all the social group, a massive task, selective removal becomes impossible.
Quite. Selective removal is impractical as stated before and for the reasons given. But the same applies to the 'selective' vaccination of badgers as promoted by the Badger Trust as the way forward. By not assessing population density prior to vaccination, thus not vaccinating all the social group, makes it pointless, even without taking into consideration the weaknesses of the vaccine or pre screening badgers for existing disease status.
Infected badgers do not necessarily excrete the TB bacillus.
This may be the case in individual badgers but at some point, infected badgers will excrete TB bacillus. PCR detects the DNA of m.bovis, rather than a candidate's immune response to it, thus bacteria will have to be present for it to flag up a positive sample. It is quite likely that if the social group is infected some will be shedding bacteria while others might not be doing so at the time of testing. But any sort of stress, and that could include cage trapping to vaccinate, is likely to push those badgers 'infected' but not 'infectious' into shedding status, with inevitable results.
For a selective cull expensive trapping is going to be required unless you gas or poison the sett indiscriminately.
'Indiscriminate' in the context of an positively identified underground midden of bacteria, (see above) is not a word we would use. It is extremely 'discriminate' having undergone a three part screen. And as explained, the survival of m.bovis in the confines of a badger sett, could keep infection going for years, infecting more and more occupants.
So ideally whole sett culling using daytime anaesthesia (not poison and not a material where a sub lethal dose harms) to cull the whole social group at one go and so avoiding perturbation. And incidentally, avoiding the cost and bureaucratic trappings of disposing of Class 1 Hazardous Waste, as a 'dead' badger is classified.
 It is worth remembering that Lord Krebs proposed the use of PCR and efficient whole social group removal in his original design for the RBCT in 1996. (See our posting below) He and fellow author Dr. Rosie Woodroffe, also wanted such setts unoccupied for at least two years, to prevent onwards transmission of disease to incoming badgers. They referred to this as 'prevention of recolonisation'. So we support this; such setts should be destroyed to prevent recolonisation by other badgers, thus preventing the onward transmission of disease to healthy badgers.

Conversely, the location of the 70 per cent of cattle herd sentinels testing clear, together withe negative PCR screens, could allow a much more targeted vaccination programme, should the Badger Trust wish to pursue this?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This is encouraging..

It is always encouraging to find the opposition gathering their collective skirts and rushing headlong into a brick wall:  usually somewhat prematurely and for completely the wrong reasons.  We refer to the Badger Trust's broadside against the idea of using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to identify TB infected (or clean and healthy?) badgers. From their website:
DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson told a Commons committee that he is exploring the possibility of using PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests to identify infected badger setts as part of a future badger culling strategy. However the Badger Trust warns that the use of such a test to detect the presence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) cannot tell whether the infection came from cattle, badgers or any other wildlife. In addition, use of this test on its own carries with it huge risks of precipitate and counter-productive action. Finding the bTB bacillus close to a sett would not in itself prove where a particular sample had come from and localised culling also raises the risk of perturbation. Consequently the possible range of error in the field could be massive.
We think the Badger Trust would be better to grasp PCR to identify clean setts, prior to jabbing unscreened populations of badgers, but let that pass. It's Brian May's their money they're wasting.

But taking bite sized bits from a comprehensive 3 tiered plan, proposed by eminent scientists and also the European Union's DG SANCO is a tad premature we think. So we will quote what others have said.

 Firstly our Lords and Masters, the European Union. In its latest blast aimed at UK politician's non-policy for eradicating tuberculosis, DG SANCO pointed out that Defra should use the skill and knowledge accumulated by their own veterinarians. They said:
The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
So the starting point of any strategy to eradicate tuberculosis must be maps of where reactors have been found. And that is any victim of tuberculosis, whether that is a cow, badger, sheep, pig, goat, bison, alpaca or domestic pet. Lord knows there are enough to choose from now. But bearing in mind that even in the worst affected counties, around 70 - 75 percent of cattle herds are still testing clear, then this is not a big ask.

Secondly, an overlay map of badger setts and more importantly their territories. And here we are most grateful to Lord Krebs and his co authors Dr. Rosie Woodroffe and Prof. Christl Donelley for their insightful proposals in 1996 which included the following statement on key features likely to influence the effectiveness of any strategy:
(i) The size of the area cleared, (including the extent to which this takes into account badger territory)

(ii) The efficiency of the badger removal operation (to ensure all infected badgers are removed and minimise any problem of perturbation associated with partial removal of social groups)

(iii) The prevention of recolonisation for a sufficient period.
That seems pretty sensible. So when these two maps are overlaid, and bait or fluorescent marking has identified badgers sharing tuberculosis victims' territories, then PCR could be used to confirm the previous two chunks of data? Interestingly, the authors of the Krebs report proposed exactly that in 1996, and of course, we are delighted to remind them of it - even if it is some 14 years later:
7.9.5 We also recommend that the scope for using modern DNA amplification techniques, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for diagnosis should be further explored. The PCR is quicker than microbial culture and can detect the remnants of dead bacteria in addition to living organisms. If sufficiently sensitive, we see two applications for such a test.

(i) It could provide rapid screening of samples from badger carcases. We suggest MAFF should consider whether this might be an alternative to culture. We estimate that existing assays could be optimised within one to two years.

(ii) MAFF could monitor the presence and distribution of infection by environmental sampling of areas used by badgers.
Sadly, that 'two year' lead in time has stretched a bit, but so many jobs depend on keeping this polemic rolling, and so many pensions rely on not identifying infectious (or healthy) badgers. Including it would seem, the arch protectors themselves, the Badger Trust. Now why would that be?

And it not just 'us' who wanted a targeted cull, involving carefully crafted badger territories, and using cutting edge technologies. Others proposed the very same 16 long years ago, including another signatory to the recent letter condemning the  'culling as planned' Son-of-Krebs shooting party  (apart from Krebs, Woodroffe and Donelley) and that was Professor Stephen Harris.

In 1996, Prof. Harris also proposed a much more targeted cull, relying on 'hotspot' identification, using reactor maps and badger territories. We quoted it in this posting.
So far from throwing this particular baby out with the bath water, we suggest the Badger Trust make use of PCR technology. It is an arrogant presumption that its use as a stand alone is proposed, and equally arrogant that its only use would be to identify infected badgers. It is just as important, in fact more so, to find and protect clean badgers, which occupy around 70 per cent of the cattle grazing areas, before tuberculosis overwhelms them too. Why shouldn't farmers enjoy healthy shiny badgers instead of the miserable, diseased specimens we fall over in Tuberculosis hotspots?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The BBC never Disappoints..

... when it comes to supporting or promoting badgers. And true to form,  it did not disappoint this week when Panorama showed half an hour of cattle (being shot), a badger (being shot) and interviewed the usual uniquely unqualified commentators on what is a matter of Public Health.

A huge missed opportunity from a very uneasy Nigel Gibbons, as the dear old Beeb did its usual trick of isolating this bacterium to badgers or cattle. No mention of Government's statutory duty to protect public health, and no mention of overspill into hundreds of companion mammals, pets and their owners.
No mention either of the word 'Tuberculosis', which many still think can be cured with an organic carrot and  paracetamol.

 But the light has finally shone for the organisers of this proposed shooting party, as NFU leader Peter Kendall (reported in the Farmers Guardian)  suggests in the programme that Natural England may have wanted the cull to fail. Surely not?

We discussed this when NE's many annexes, choc full of tank traps for the unwary, were published in August 2011. And again in this posting, which co-incidentally mentioned a FERA / NE 'mole' which could possibly blow the whole thing to smithereens. And sure enough, in this programme, he popped up from his burrow.

 Dr. Chris Cheeseman, ex boss of Central Science Laboratory's Woodchester Park 'badger heaven' appeared quite relaxed as he explained he'd shared information, presumably gleaned from his sett mates at FERA / NE, with those intent on stopping a perfectly lawful (if daft) activity. Of course the whole thing was designed to fail.

The farmer whose cattle were filmed through the monotonous ritual of 60 day testing, followed by the slaughter of those having had exposure to m.bovis , was a tremendous figurehead for the cattle industry. His raw emotion and frustration, just below the surface as good young cattle went to be shot  was accompanied by Team Badgers's crass shrug, and throw away remark that 'they'd have been slaughtered sooner or later anyway.' 

Finally, conspicuous by their absence were clips of what tuberculosis does to badgers. These remained on the cutting room floor, as Cuddles Pauline Kidner cuddled cuddles chirping baby badger, to assorted 'ooohs and aaaahs' from her paying customers.

Rattle those tins why don't you? - no one would give a single penny to keep this poor old badger going.

Tuberculous pleurisy in any mammal is not just deadly, this type of lesion is excruciatingly painful.

There were 14 badgers in this group, all of which were in the same emaciated state and with advanced tuberculosis. Infectious to any mammal, with every step or breath they took.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Consultation on vaccination.

To jab or not to jab, that is the question.
And the EFRA Committee invite your views on whether to vaccinate badgers or cattle, or both.

On badgers,  given the dog's breakfast that arose from the 2010 'Elf and Safety trial and that mythical '74 per cent' headline success rate, most of the public (via the BBC and Dr. May) believe that an unscreened badger population can be jabbed once and protected from TB for life. Try catching the wild ones. One farm taking part in a trial, caught just a single badger in several weeks. Just one. Now that's one very expensive jab.

BCG for badgers has been awarded an 'LMA' or  Limited Marketing Authority license. Under that type of license, data on efficacy (that's whether the damn stuff works or not) was not presented and thus that thorny question is passed down the line. It becomes the 'responsibility of the end user'.

Neither do we look forward to another complete trading ban on all cattle products should we venture down the vaccinating cattle route. A revamped Beef Ban on all cattle products, annual jabs of a product with at best, 50 per cent efficacy @ £8 plus a DIVA test offering many false positives @ £26. Restriction is still restriction and the cattle are still dead. And how many other mammals will need this annual jab? Try selling this one to all the sheep farmers, goat keepers, alpaca herds and cat and dog owners.

 But the European Directives on the eradication of TB in Member States, specifically forbid treatment or vaccination for Tuberculosis. And we not aware that these have changed.
Article 13
Member States shall ensure that under a plan for the accelerated eradication of tuberculosis: (a) the presence and suspected presence of tuberculosis are compulsorily and immediately notifiable to the competent authority;
(b) the following are prohibited:

(i) any therapeutic or desensitizing treatment of tuberculosis;
(ii) anti-tuberculosis vaccination.
However a recent European Parliamentary Question to the Commission gave a fudge of an answer. Not a 'Yes' not  a 'No', but a door that opens both ways, and no answer at all.

After a recent visit by Brian May and Team Badger, who came back with the headline  'vaccination of cattle within months' and all publicity that generated, the European delegates spluttered that they had been 'misquoted' with facts taken out of context.

Well ain't that a surprise?

Friday, November 09, 2012

"Why don't they ....

.....   use the same technique for badgers that we use in hospitals, to distinguish between patients with  M .tuberculosis  and M. bovis ?" So said a TB specialist, whose expertise lies in treating human patients for tuberculosis.

And that 'technique' is what?

Er ...  PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) with a reported specificity to M. bovis of 98 per cent, and that two percent difference usually because of bad sampling techniques, the man said.

Why indeed?

It is worth noting that these samples enter the laboratory with an M. tuberculosis complex tag, thus still further underplaying the role of M. bovis in human beings. The different drug regimes for each strain, paint a different picture.

(More on this story as it pads out.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Under Defra's radar - but still dead.

We have written about Defra's extraordinary way of collating its ''other species' TB victims statistics many times now. This week, the body counters at Defra have produced another table of dead animals, but unlike their cattle statistics, these only show the single microbial sample which confirms Tuberculosis, for spoligotyping.

For sure, the outbreaks which are reported to AHVLA, do get followed up and hundreds of animals get slaughtered. But they do not get a look in on these stats. As we pointed out in 2010, in this post, they are the 'Disappeared'.

We thought this year, that just maybe, with the publication of a single outbreak of 'bovine' tuberculosis in which over 400 animals died, the Ostrich mentality of Defra's statisticians may be shamed into reality. But we were mistaken. Just 30 samples appear on their 3rd. quarter samples table. And we note that many trace herds are still 'tethered' to the index outbreak, and counted as one.

 This obfuscation is misleading and dangerous. And once again we are most grateful to the editors of the Alpaca TB support group for clearly presented facts about how this disease affects their animals, and where it is located.

So far this year, Defra's tables show that a positive Tuberculosis sample from an alpaca or llama has been identified in the counties of Carmarthanshire, Cheshire, Devon (3) Somerset, Staffordshire, Warickshire, West Midlands, West Sussex, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. But such is the urgency with with Defra have contained the known susceptibility, huge infectivity and onwards transmission of 'bovine' Tuberculosis from these delightful animals, that sales from these herds, may now involve several European countries or even 'TB free' Scotland..

In the interest of Royal relations, we are relieved for HRH that this alpaca was neither coughing  nor spitting during their face to face encounter.

But on the horizon, is a better test for camelids than the 'bovine' skin test, which has proved to be  rubbish on alpacas. And we welcome the imminent publication of the full report, following the Alpaca TB Support Group's privately funded study into cutting edge bTB diagnostics using PCR. The interim is looking promising.

Monday, November 05, 2012

So if it's not cattle .....?

Today we post the story of a closed dairy herd in Cheshire which has bought in no cattle for 16 years, has no neighbours with cattle directly contiguous but has suffered a devastatingly serious 70 cow loss at the latest TB test. Dairy farmer Philip Latham told his story in the Crewe Chronicle .

After doing the usual 'risk assessment', his AHVLA support officer has supported his assertion that badgers are to blame for the breakdown.. Having inspected Mr. Latham's livestock and maps of his farm she commented:
“He doesn’t buy in and has no contact with animals from farms around him, so the disease has to have come from wildlife and that tends to be badgers. Deer can carry TB but there aren’t deer in that area. In my opinion the information available points to badgers being the source of TB on this farm.
As a further indication of how her workload had changed over time the officer, Mrs. May (no relation, we are assured,  to the rock star leader of Team Badger) explained that :
When she first started working for the Government agency [AHVLA] only a small part of her two-day workload involved working with TB – now that is all she deals with.
What an miserable job for an AHVLA person to do, Condemning cattle to Defra's mincer on daily basis and dealing with stressed out frustrated farmers, when her own carefully crafted risk assessments show that the primary cause is wildlife, with a name most dare not speak. And they are ignored, as are her reports. This is a chart of badger related breakdowns in Devon in 2004 as produced from those AHVLA mapped risk assessments.
The source of 76 per cent of breakdowns were logged as 'Badgers', 16 per cent as 'Unknown origin' and just 8 per cent to purchased cattle.

Mr Latham is also quoted in the Farmers Weekly asking the NFU to consider an alternative to blanket and indiscriminate culling of badgers as planned in the pilot culls. Rather than culling both healthy and diseased badgers in a given area, Mr Latham said farm leaders should also consider a targeted cull involving the identification and culling of diseased badgers. A targeted cull would be more acceptable to the public, he said.
"As dairy farmers, we might be indignant that we have been badly done to this year. But we didn't manage to mobilise a fraction of the support mobilised by the 'Team Badger' brigade. We need a strategy that gets people behind us. We need to show we are willing to compromise. Many people think we want to kill badgers. But people are our consumers and we need them on side. Getting them on side would help them help us deliver what we want - which is not actually a cull of badgers but control of the disease. That is what we are after."
We are grateful to Mr. Latham for permission to tell his all too familiar story, and once again to the authors of the paper, first shown at the Killarney Conference on Epidemiology, for the use of their charts.

These risk assessments, so carefully prepared by Mrs. May and other AHVLA staff lie gathering dust, when what they should be doing is forming the first rung of data, for a management strategy to identify the location of all TB reactors. Take your pick: there are enough of them. Cattle for sure, but alpacas, pigs, sheep, deer, bison and goats are all logged now with AHVLA as are the poor old badgers. And we hear that VLA's spoligotype maps, so valuable in establishing spread (or not) of TB are now being built with the locations of several domestic cats. All the cattle have gone.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Plan B?

We posted a short series of links to various scientific papers on a previous thread, which gave an insight into the background of the non - eradication of tuberculosis in this country. Today, we'll top that up with the recommendations of both Lord Krebs in 1996 and DG SANCO in 2012.

But first a reminder that the intra-dermal skin test is the universally approved test for cattle, world wide. It is the primary choice of the OIE ( Office International des Epizooties )- an intergovernmental organisation which was actually set up in 1924. There are international rules on the eradication of infectious diseases. We expect others to obey them, and we must do so ourselves, or take the consequences. All countries use this test, most with outstanding success. The exception is the UK.

No country in the world has made a dent in eradication of TB in cattle, while leaving a wildlife reservoir to reinfect both them and other mammals. Prior to the Protection of Badgers Act 1972, farmers managed the  badger population, so it incorrect to say that 'not a badger was killed' during the cattle eradication years.  After 1972, all removals for any reason needed a license. PQs confirm that over time, demand for such licenses increased exponentially, indicating an increasing population.
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the total population of badgers in the UK; and in which areas the population is greatest. [148650]
Mr. Bradshaw: English Nature advises that there are likely to be in the region of 300,000 to 400,000 badgers in Great Britain. This figure is derived from a National Badger Survey which took place in the mid-1990's.

The survey also reported that there had been a 77 per cent. increase in badger numbers between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. The increasing number of applications received by Defra for licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (up 50 per cent. since 1999) suggest that this trend is continuing. 
So plenty of badgers then.

We also note that the mantra of badger vaccination appears to have taken on a life of its own. It is now variously quoted by the Brian May, the Badger Trust, Wildlife Trusts, National Trusts and others, who trust that a single jab gives protection for life. It may give FERA employees a job for life, but it most certainly does not give that much protection, even on pre-screened badgers. We gave links to relevant scientific papers in this posting. And from those, anyone with half a brain can see that the jab was trialled on badgers pre-screened for tuberculosis, and it has to be repeated annually. If it has any effect at all, it may reduce lesions and thus bacterial spread over many, many generations.

Used as proposed by its followers, it is as bigger distraction as the RBCT.  But the licensing of this product may offer a clue: efficacy data were not produced. Badger BCG has a 'Limited Marketing Authority' (LMA) license. This means that any claims to its effectiveness are 'the responsibility of the end user'. They have not been independently verified. It may also be illegal under OIE rules on the eradication of tuberculosis, which forbid treatment or vaccination of any animal.

Also airbrushed are Defra's belated comment of its headline "74 per cent" efficacy for the product: 'The data should not be used to support the claim'. Former minister Jim Paice described claims for this product as: 'unhelpful' and 'misleading'. It doesn't alter the fact that a lot of people believe them.

So what have we got to work with to turn this charade around? The body which oversees the eradication of tuberculosis in the European Union is DG SANCO. Their latest blast at Defra this summer included the following statement:
The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
We would agree. Rather than being the engine drivers of the trains which feed Defra's mincing machines for tuberculosis casualties, why not use the information that AHVLA staff collect when investigating a breakdown? Each breakdown is carefully mapped as to where, when and how exposure occurred. But that information is gathering dust.

So our suggestion is to use it to map the location of all reactors over a wide area. Any variety of reactors. There are plenty to choose from now. Cattle, badgers, alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, cats and dogs. Then do a overlay field map of badger setts and their tracks, using fluorescent dust or coloured bait to track the movements over land occupied by these reactors.

Confirm the tracked locations of a) clean setts and b) infected ones by the now validated PCR test. And we do not want to hear that this technology does not work. It does and it is being used commercially for other bacteria in the M. tuberculosis complex  group by AHVLA. M. avium paratuberculosis  ( Johnes disease) samples are charged at around £26 for 5 pooled samples.

Get positive. This will work. It is already giving very encouraging interim results on alpaca samples.

But this is  Defra's dilemma; and the real stumbling block to progress. Neither Defra, FERA nor Natural England  want to cull badgers: any badgers, infected or not. Whether that is misplaced sentimentality or the worship of a particularly lucrative cash cow, is debatable. But when infected setts are identified, and litigation becomes a real threat, then action will have to be taken and taken quickly.

Professor (Lord) Krebs has been quite vocal recently, as have many more the Magic Circle involved in keeping this whole miserable shebang rolling. Their arguments echo Bourne's in 1997, 'culling badgers as done in the RBCT' is not the way forward. Krebs and co rephrased this with  'culling as planned'.

So what is the way forward? In his 1996 Plan, not only Krebs but co-authors Donelley and Woodroffe of the ISG clan, proposed and recommended the use of PCR. (p 131):
7.9.5 We also recommend that the scope for using modern DNA amplification techniques, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for diagnosis should be further explored. The PCR is quicker than microbial culture and can detect the remnants of dead bacteria in addition to living organisms. If sufficiently sensitive, we see two applications for such a test.
(i) It could provide rapid screening of samples from badger carcases. We suggest MAFF should consider whether this might be an alternative to culture. We estimate that existing assays could be optimised within one to two years.
(ii) MAFF could monitor the presence and distribution of infection by environmental sampling of areas used by badgers.
They most certainly could, but Defra have resisted this opportunity for the last 15 years, leading to a recent PCR abattoir screening of sheep picking up to 50 per cent infection. Do we really want to screw lamb exports as well as trade in all cattle products and alpacas?

With this totally predictable cock up, we have a hiatus. A chance to do a rethink of this modern day carnage by computer, which followed a politically motivated Son-of-Krebs, designed to fail from day one. Just follow the trail:

The crucial original population estimate (done by FERA) early this spring was based on the RBCT figures 16 years ago, other area densities and a small sample of the pilot areas. This amalgam figure was given to the NFU as the base line figure for the areas. And it was much too low.

From that, everything else flowed. Number of badgers, numbers of shooters and numbers of bullets, disposal and everything else. And thus cost. The cost was all to be collected from the farmers + 25 per cent contingency fund.

The culling protocol was set up by NE to be so bureaucratically complicated as to fail, thus no-one (except the NFU) expected it to get off the ground or to survive a Judicial Review. But it did, hence the frantic last minute scramble to count badgers living in Glos and Somerset instead of elsewhere, some 16 years ago.

And therein came the problem. There were up to 60 per cent more than calculated, so 60 per cent more cost, and to cap it all, Natural England announced that they wanted 80 per cent shot on 42 nights, to achieve the original target of 70 per cent. You really couldn't make it up.

So we have a toxic mix of a quango which doesn't want to cull any badgers at all, in charge of a politically driven mathematical model of Pythagorus and bingo. A PR disaster all round and the truth the biggest casualty of all.

So, to summarise: we propose a structured investigation using veterinary expertise, to locate clean setts, and protect them. This going hand in hand with seeking out infected badgers, using cutting edge technology and reactor mapping. There should be complete removal of these groups and only these, to halt the carnage ripping through our countryside. Fewer badgers would be culled and only infectious ones; clean ones protected and nurtured with more space. What's not to like?

 If we lose this opportunity, the only winner is this vicious and almost indestructible bacteria - Tuberculosis.