Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tuberculosis - an anniversary.

(* This post has been updated)

Last year we had the sad task of explaining to readers that alpaca owner, Dianne Summers  herself,  had contracted tuberculosis. The type was confirmed as m.bovis and the spoligotype found to be the same as Dianne's alpacas which were euthanized in 2008 - 2009.

It is also the same strain found in badgers inhabiting that locality.

After a rocky start, including several chest drain procedures to remove fluid from her lung, in the spring of last year, Dianne was put on a vicious cocktail of drugs. But her body didn't take kindly to the onslaught and in early May she was hospitalised again in an attempt to balance the side effects of these drugs, with their expected benefit.

 It is a year since Dianne was diagnosed with tuberculosis and fourteen months since her illness started. On this anniversary we have been given permission to update you on her progress.

After 9 months of chemotherapy, which saw her almost bed ridden for weeks and left her very breathless and weak,  Dianne's drugs were withdrawn in early March. This was so that further tests could assess the progress of this evil disease. So far, she has undergone X rays and scans, had a trot on a treadmill and a bronchoscopy is planned. Dianne tells us that the scans revealed a:
"fist sized white patch on my lung, but in its centre is a black hole".
Her consultants are not sure yet if that 'black hole' is scarring, or the active but walled up infection, for which tuberculosis is renowned, which could break out again. Samples from the bronchoscopy will be cultured and meanwhile, next week, her drug regime will be reinstated.

* Meanwhile Dianne has undergone a PET/CT  or Positron Emission Tomography / Computed Tomography scan. This type of scan involves being injected with a radioactive tracer, and then a 3D computerised scan is taken. She tells us that she still suffers pain in that lung, and gets breathless easily.

 So for those who still think tuberculosis is easily cured and that a week's course of antibiotics will do the trick, think again. Dianne had BCG as a teenager and also had regular X rays during the passage of this disease through her alpacas and afterwards. .

This case is far too serious for our renowned cynicism, but Dianne's illness should remind us all that  mycobacterium 'bovis' is not a disease of cattle. It is a deadly zoonosis and should be treated as such.

And once again, as we wish her well, we are reminded that Defra still refuse to place camelids under their TB eradication umbrella and continue to drag their collective heels on a sound diagnostic ante mortem test.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Repeat, repeat and repeat.

We have spoken of a 'beneficial crisis' created by the zoonosis known as 'bovine tuberculosis' many times. And yet again, this feeding trough has proved lucrative for members of academia. This time the RVC (Royal Veterinary College) with not a little help from FERA, fitted tracking collars to badgers and cattle, and then tabulated the contacts. There were not that many direct contacts, but before our Badgerist friends get too excited, the indirect contacts were tracked too. And there were loads.

The paper reports that indirect contacts were shown
"... to be far more frequent with 383 records of badger visits to latrines located on pasture grazed by cattle, and 1,716 visits by cattle to these sites. “This suggests that indirect contacts might be more important than direct contacts in terms of disease transmission at pasture,” a paper on the research, published in the Cambridge University Press, concluded.
The paper is discussed in this article in Farmers Guardian. But this site is built on the foundation of Owen Paterson's Parliamentary questions posed almost a decade ago. And this is just one which tells a similar tale of 'indirect contact' and its expected consequences.

 6 Jan 2004: Column 248W
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of whether badgers infected by TB may excrete urine from which viable M. bovis bacilli may be isolated; what the typical quantities per millilitre are; and whether such levels are capable of causing infection in cattle through (a) contamination of feed and (b) other mechanisms. [144445]

Mr. Bradshaw: Some badgers develop TB infection in the kidneys 37 per cent. of infected badgers sampled post mortem between 1971 and 1978 m. bovis was isolated from the kidneys and may excrete M. bovis bacilli in urine. Urine is typically left in trails up to a metre or more in length and may be focused at a latrine or distributed more randomly as the badger forages. Concentrations of up to 300,000 bacilli per ml of badger urine have been reported and experimental nasal inoculation of cattle suggests that, at this concentration of viable microbes, less than 0.03 ml would need to be inhaled by cattle in order to promote slow infection.

 Investigations into infection of cattle from feed and other sources contaminated with infected badger urine are lacking. However, risk of infection to cattle by infected badger urine on cattle feed would be a function of the survival of the microbe in the feed (which is dependent on, for example, duration since excretion, moisture content of the environment, exposure to UV rays) the number of microbes consumed by the cattle and the method of consumption (i.e. ingestion or inhalation). I am unaware of measurements of M. bovis survival in cattle feed but the environment inside farm buildings is generally considered to be conducive to longer periods of survival than at pasture, where M. bovis in badger urine has survived for three days in summer and 28 days in winter.
Cattle appear less able to detect badger urine than faeces at pasture away from latrines. In addition, patches contaminated with urine detected by cattle appear to be sniffed more than those contaminated with faeces. Furthermore, some cattle do not select against latrines and freely graze over them. Therefore, potential sources of risk of cattle contact with infected badger urine include the ingestion of contaminated feed from feed stores or in troughs; investigation/grazing at and around latrines; and the investigation/grazing of contaminated pasture.
We are nothing if not persistent, so another slant at the same question,

 Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, column 212W, what inferences can be drawn from the preponderance of TB lesions found in badgers on post mortem examination arising in the lymphatic nodes of head and chest as to (a) the portal of infection, (b) the possible routes of infection and (c) the risk presented by those badgers to other animals. [150564]
Mr. Bradshaw: Infection with Mycobacterium bovis frequently causes lesions in the respiratory tract and the associated lymph nodes of badgers, which suggests that a common route of infection is by inhalation, or ingestion followed by inhalation. Where there is infection of the respiratory tract, it is probable that there are phases of M. bovis excretion of infected saliva via the respiratory tract, which may contaminate pasture or animal feed containers.
and another:

 29 Jan 2004: Column 482W
 Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, column 210W, what her estimate is of the typical proportion of badger faeces and urine deposited in latrines from a given social group; what proportion is distributed more generally over grassland; and what risk of M. bovis infection these deposits present to grazing cattle. [150550]  

Mr. Bradshaw: Work carried out by Bristol University suggests that the proportion of faeces and urine deposited at latrines vary with badger density. The proportion of latrines located in different habitats is the subject of current research at the Central Science Laboratory, the results of which will be published in due course.
The majority of cattle actively avoid eating grass contaminated with badger faeces but tend not to select against grass contaminated with badger urine. Since most faeces tend to be deposited in latrines, which are often large and obvious, while urinations tend to trail onto pasture, infected badger urine at pasture might pose a greater transmission risk than infected faeces. However, there is likely to be some risk of onward transmission wherever either infectious faeces or urine are present on land grazed by cattle.
New 'research'? The hell it is. The danger to cattle from the detritus left by badgers infected with tuberculosis has been known for decades and answered quite clearly in these PQs, which are 9 years old and archived under this tag.

It is high time that this lucrative gravy train reached its station and its many passengers disembarked for pastures new. Preferably pastures not contaminated with urine, pus, faeces or saliva from infected badgers, 38 per cent of which were found to be infected in this latest money spinner trial.

Scotland did a similar 'research' in 2009. We covered it in this posting. Their conclusion was slightly different though.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A success story - but not for Team GB

We've mentioned the TB eradication situation in other parts of the world on many occasions, but closest to home - and arguably one of the most successful eradication processes - has been in that undertaken in the Republic of Ireland.

Farmers Guardian has the full story and you can catch up on past policies in one of our a previous postings which will update you on the Republic's TB history and the success of its eradication policy.

But the two main reasons for the success of the programme, were explained by a diminutive professor who was soooooo proud of the political steer which he accepted for that hugely expensive charade in England, known as the Badger Dispersal Trial Randomised Badger Culling Trial.

In evidence given to the EFRA Committee on 18th June 2007, Professor John Bourne patiently explained the difference between the Republic's attitude to badgers and that which he encouraged in the UK.

On trial protocol, so different from that followed in the Republic, he commented that the Irish:
"...have less welfare considerations than we were forced to give to the trapping that we carried out on the trial"
From that we assume he means that the Irish Wildlife teams cleverly reinvented snares as 'stop snares' or 'leg restraints' and together with shooting the 'snared' animal, actually caught some infected badgers. Whereas Bourne's TB takeaways   cage traps were subject to huge interference and sabotage. Our Parliamentary Questions assessed this as 69 percent of all traps set to October 2003.
Bourne continued his evidence:
"Very importantly, there was 100 per cent farmer co operation and we did not get that."
Why was that then? The Badgerists tell their followers that all farmers want to kill all badgers. Annihilate, eliminate, exterminate is the mantra. But Bourne says the opposite: "we did not get that [ cooperation]".
And we are told both by farmers and ex WLU teams that this was because those farmers who had 'clean' badgers did not want them disturbed. However they would have been more than happy to cooperate with the 'project' if it was targeting only diseased animals.

But arguably the most important obstacle, Professor Bourne helpfully pointed out:
"... is that there is no Badger Group in Ireland".
And there you have it dear readers. Farmer cooperation and no Badgerists.

And the result in the Republic of Ireland is a drop from 40,000 reactors to just 18,500 in 12 years, using reactive culling around an infected farm. The Republic has achieved 100 per cent farmer cooperation and no May Rants which owe more to political prejudice than control of a Grade 3 zoonosis.

With a 2012 total of 38,010 cattle slaughtered, GB has the third highest carcase tally on record. So well done Team GB.

Polite memo to Dr. May.
After we have given publicity to your latest rant, would you be so kind as to adjust your press release? You destroy your own credibility by so blatantly  scalping   Defra's TB statistics. And if you really can't add and subtract correctly, perhaps stick to star gazing asteroids:  preferably several million light years away, where errors of such magnitude can be safely and unquestioningly fudged.
You know it makes sense.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

TB free Germany and Switzerland ...

,... are no more, thanks to wildlife reservoirs which have fed the disease back up into cattle herds which have been TB free ( in the case of Switzerland) for around 50 years. We'll post the direct links to the reports in their respective countries and in their own language. As our co-editor so helpfully pointed out, Google Chrome has an instant translator.

 The stories are similar. In Switzerland, for the first time in 50 years, in the canton of Fribourg a case of bovine tuberculosis has been found.
"The authorities have imposed over the entire affected herd a lock and a milk delivery block."
The suspect cow was found at slaughter in early March. The piece explains that bTB may be transmitted to human beings, either by contaminated products or direct contact with an infected animal. As the products made from milk consigned by this farm were heat treated (pasteurised) before manufacture, the Federal Office of Public Health deemed them safe. The article continues:
" In adult cattle, the incubation time of the disease may take several months. Source of infection of bovine tuberculosis may be either other livestock or humans. The Swiss livestock was since the 60s free of tuberculosis. The monitoring program is based on the inspections in slaughterhouses. In the neighboring countries - France, Germany and Austria - will become increasingly cases of bovine tuberculosis registered in domestic and wild herds, especially in deer and badgers."
So our interest in this case will be exactly what measures the Swiss authorities take to protect their cattle herds from such wild vectors?

Another piece in Die Welt covers a widespread emerging problem with bTB in Germany.

  The strap line to the AP picture is this:
The Allgäu is one of the largest milk producers in Germany. But just the Allgäu mountain pastures where the animals graze, could become his undoing.
We know the feeling. The article explains that since 1997, Germany has been bTB free.
Actually Germany is officially in 1997 as free of bovine tuberculosis (TB). In Allgäu is the serious infectious disease [ bTB] that is transmissible to humans, but now resurfaced. More than 400 cattle had already been killed. It has the worst hit Oberallgäu. In the tourist area near the alps about 90,000 cattle are kept. Here veterinarians discovered 354 previously infected animals.
So, the cattle go out into the alpine pastures during the summer - and come back with bTB? The article leans towards that conclusion:
As a possible source of infection in cattle is deer - the cattle could have captured the pathogens in the summer on a mountain pasture. In order to prevent an epidemic, to the screening of herds now be extended to the whole of Bavaria. On farms in the Württemberg Ravensburg cases of TB were detected. "On four different farms were eleven and infected animals have already been culled," said a spokeswoman for the district office. The animals were last summer was on Bavarian Alps.
So Germany wants Bavaria-wide tests and a proposal from the Oberallgäuer State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) provides that in the entire State of all cattle aged over 30 months are tested for TB. In the counties along the Alps, it should be all cattle aged over 12 months. Farms that have infected animals in the house remain closed at least eight weeks. Is unblocked only after a follow-up confirmed that the remaining number is TB free.
"In other counties the Allgäu infectious disease has emerged. In Ostallgäu far 68 farms were examined. According to the district administration office in Marktoberdorf on three farms infected animals were discovered."
This disease hasn't bubbled up from cattle - this area of Switzerland has been trading TB free for 50 years and the Oberallgäuer region of Germany for sixteen years. So the UK's  'cattle to cattle' clack stumbles a tad. But of one thing of which you can be very sure, neither Switzerland nor Germany will put their trading status at risk as we are doing, by ignoring a developing wildlife reservoir of 'bovine' TB.

We watch developments with interest.....

 News just in from Germany on numbers, and their preferred TB testing regime (unused for 16 years).

The latest update on the Oberallgau region has identified 184 farms with animals testing positive to M.Caprae. 530 animals have been culled. 4 more holdings in Baden-Wuerttemberg  had positive tests on animals which had grazed the alpine slopes last summer.

And there has been a change in the testing regime for Germany:
"So far, when reading the single skin test every inconclusive/positive animal had a blood sample taken on the day of reading  and this sample was tested with the Bovigam test.
The blood samples were sent to different labs and , surprise, surprise, results in most cases differed. So after much complaining and threatening legal action Bovigam is no longer used and animals are now tested with the comparative skin test.

From what I have learnt Austria and Switzerland don't use Bovigam at all but they do skin tests / PCR which is their official strategy."
Mmmm. So after playing with GammaIFN, Germany has reverted to our comparative intradermal skin test. And at least a couple of countries are up to speed with PCR, (Polymerase Chain Reaction) as a diagnostic tool for bTB  even if our efforts languish in AHVLA's cupboard. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Correction is needed.

Not from us, but one is most certainly due from the Badger Trust and 'Dr.' Brian May's Team Badger.
We pointed out in January, the outrageous spin which both groups had put on a totally incomparable set of figures. If you remember, they had compared the full twelve months of 2008 with just seven (January to July) of 2012 and announced a big fall in cattle TB. As in 44 percent. Obviously the result of all those extra cattle restrictions.

Following our posting, this statement downright lie was repeated, on the Badger Trust's site where they say:
"the bTB toll on farm businesses has been declining steadily over the last five years. There has been a 39 per cent fall in new herd incidents since 2008 - from 5,007 to 3,018. Over the same period the number of individual cattle slaughtered was reduced by 44 per cent – from 39,015 to 21,512."
The same lie appears on Dr. Brian May's Team Badger site. It is to be hoped that when out star gazing, Dr. May gets his light years a tad more accurate than this obfuscation bilge.

So what was the final 2012 vintage for Defra's cattle slaughterings, on the altar of Badgerist worship?

The full twelve months, published this week show an almost 10 per cent rise on 2011 and a very slight fall on 2008, which was one the highest on record. The number of cattle compulsorily and prematurely slaughtered is not 21,512 as quoted by the Trust and Team Badger. It is 38,010, a figure which may be subject to change, Defra explain.

Defra's tally of prematurely slaughtered cattle over the last five years is 183,452.

We can't tell you the percentage of herds under restriction, or compare them to previous years at the moment. SAM (Defra's new toy computer) has 'issues'.

 He's not the only one with issues. We have too. Especially with Badger Trust maths.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

All gone......

This week the front page of the Farmers Guardian carries the heart wrenching story of one couples' loss of their lifetime's work. Their whole dairy herd.

These are some of the 97 dairy cattle, pictured the day before they were slaughtered.  Most were heavily in calf. The calves die too.

This herd is on annual testing, with clear tests prior to this January. So the test's reading day was a shock. So much so that Mrs. Bothwell was asked to return from work, to support her family as the test had revealed almost 100 reactors out of 150 milkers.

Occupying a newly built dairy complex, the Bothwells had invested heavily for their long term future in milk production to the highest standards. But it is situated next to the Football Association flagship, St. Georges Park.  which has also invested. Occupying more land than that which supports the Bothwells' cattle, the Park boasts 13 football pitches, 2 hotels and a conference centre - amongst other amenities.



 It was built over the last couple of years and fenced last May, prior to the official opening by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The Bothwell's dairy cattle would have been turned out to graze at about that time.

However, the previous occupants of the 330 acre site, seemed unhappy with this arrangement, and have repeatedly broken through the perimeter fence.
Were they trying to get in - or out?
This is just one of several breaches and tunnels. 


Sadly, some have not made it, leaving their remains on the pristine pitches, where children (and adults) learn to kick balls around.

We've mentioned the effect that any change in habitat has on infectious badgers before. In an animal where tuberculosis is endemic, it  provokes the disease to 'infectious' status very quickly. AHVLA vets confirm that they have seen herds going under TB restriction  as pipelines, housing and motorways fracture badger territories, provoking the infamous 'perturbation' effect and fighting. And we saw it after FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) in 2001, where around 11 million grazing animals were removed from the countryside in a very short space of time. No ecological survey was done prior to that carnage, but some incredible assumptions were made after it.

Having seen the photographs of the frantic attempts by badgers to enter (or leave?)  St. Georges Park after its development and the resulting carnage inflicted on this neighbouring herd of dairy cattle, we can only offer sympathy and support to the Bothwells. They are not alone.
After a vintage year for cattle slaughterings in 2012, we have heard of three more complete herd clearances this week and some horrendous losses too.

Badgers don't appreciate floods any more than we do: and if they can't swim and don't drown, they move. And then they fight. And then infected status becomes infectious and bingo, another herd bites the dust.

Gillian Bothwell told Farmers Guardian:
"Losing the animals - to see dairy cows that have lived here all their lives loaded on to a trailer - was more than heartbreaking. I can’t get over that we lost all those calves as well. I can’t bear to think of the calves going to the slaughterhouse. That really upset me. Louis has taken it very badly – he spent more time with his cows than me. In the first two weeks, I was quite scared. Farmers don’t talk, they keep everything inside.”
As they survey their empty sheds, this is all the Bothwells have left of their lovely herd of dairy cattle....

... and a view of 330 acres of a fenced, football play area with hotels, car parks - and no badgers.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Loophole or opportunity?

We have mentioned several times, the most irritating bloody stupid anomaly, where cattle, sheep, deer, alpacas and pigs can be screwed to the floor with movement restrictions, and yet by a quirk of legislation, badgers may be moved around the country, apparently with departmental blessing.

Two of the prime movers are the fragrant Mrs. Kidner - she of Secret World in Somerset and our old friends the RSPCA. You will see from the link, that Secret World are presently advertising for 'homes' for rescued badger cubs. Anyone can apply. Your place or mine?

Some of the earlier Parliamentary Questions raised by Owen Paterson MP in 2004, revealed this incredible opportunity for the spread of Tb by the involuntary translocation of badgers. We describe this as 'involuntary' because this is not when they walk into your farm by themselves, but when they arrive in the back of a vehicle and are released by 'others' in the name of 'animal welfare'.

From answers Mr. Paterson received, we would remind readers of just how open this policy is:
1. That it is NOT an offence to take a badger from the wild, if the reason for its removal is: "solely for the purpose of tending it".

Furthermore, as a native species: "there are no specific restrictions under current law regulating where badgers are released once they have recovered. Normally once fit enough to be released into the wild, the badger will be returned to the location where it was originally found.

This approach is recommended on welfare grounds due to their territorial nature, and also to avoid transmitting disease." 6th Jan 2004: Col. 249W [1444446]
Not by Secret World it isn't. See later.
2. The captive badgers are supposed to be tested three times using the old Brock test, which fizzled out as a live test as it was so unreliable. It delivered just 47 per cent sensitivity on a negative reading. However this procedure is not compulsory.

"testing guidelines are not mandatory, but are set down in a voluntary code of practise"

30th Jan 2004: Col. 543W [150609]
3. Animals testing positive should be euthanized: but what about the animals they have socialised with? And who proposed this ?:
"This protocol does not advise destruction of badgers who have had contact with a test positive badger. It should be emphasised that this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra."

 6th Feb 2004: Col. 1109W [150583]
As we said in that earlier posting, who the blazes did devise or approve it then? And why cannot Defra lift its collective head out of the sand to block this very worrying (for cattle farmers) loophole?

We have heard of relocated badgers being taken to Leicestershire's new National Forest, to South Yorkshire and even further north and eastwards into areas of 4 year cattle testing. But from where have they come? As Ms. Kidner proudly told a local SW newspaper: some are 'from areas which are designated to be used in a badger culling exercise".
You really couldn't make it up.

Describing her work in Somerset at Secret World, Pauline Kidner wrote in the BBC Wildlife magazine (1999) of the difficulties of relocating badgers within the area where they'd been turfed out found. And even with the comforting blanket offered by Defra that these creatures would not have been moved out of the area, 'on welfare grounds' and to avoid transmitting disease', Mrs. Kidner tells us that:
" Recent events have led us to question the procedure. (Of releasing them back into the place from which they came.) Two badgers were brought to us and treated for fight wounds. After being released, both were returned to us after suffering further and more severe fight wounds. They had to be put down"

"Our rehabilitated badgers when released for some reason not known to us are not accepted back by their own kind. They must be returned to sites unoccupied by badgers".
So, in a nutshell:
There are no restrictions on where 'sick / mended' badgers are released by such 'sanctuaries'.
These places are not licensed by Defra, and although they may use a 'voluntary protocol' to release badgers, this is neither drawn up nor approved by Defra.
Animal hospitals are not legally required to test badgers for Tb before release.
And there are no statutes preventing the 'relocation' of wild animals - even diseased ones.

So there you have it. After a vintage year for cattle slaughterings, the lady is looking for volunteer land owners to re home badgers from areas of endemic TB.

And the opportunity?
License and control these operations. Bring them in from the cold: use PCR to screen their rescues and then use them as restocks after clearing out the infected badgers and filling in their dirty ancestral homes setts?