Sunday, April 28, 2013

The 'regional accents' of m.bovis.

It is somewhat unusual to find us agreeing with Defra on anything at all to do with 'bovine'  badger Tuberculosis. In fact we have been heard to say on more than one occasion, that badgers are not the problem, but Defra's attitude to the control of those infected with Tuberculosis, most certainly is.

So it is refreshing to agree with Professor Ian Boyd, Defra's Chief Scientist, on the regional patches of spoligotypes found in Great Britain. He explains:  

... when one drills down in to the details of this clonal complex within Britain one finds an interesting pattern. There are different forms of bTB in different areas. Put simply, if bTB could talk it would probably have regional accents. This implies, for example, that bTB from Somerset doesn’t mix much with bTB from Cornwall. Now, if you are in to bTB like I am, this is just fascinating.

Fascinating??? We could think of other adjectives - but let that pass. Professor Boyd continues:
It is also an encouraging signal that cattle movement controls to prevent the spread of bTB are working, as otherwise we would probably a lot more mingling of the bTB strains and an eventual blurring of regional distinctions. That there are still such thick ‘accents’ between regional variations suggests some success in containing them within their regions.
Without wanting to rain on the good Professor's parade, these 'regional variations' have existed for decades - and certainly long before Defra nailed our cattle to the floor. And we use Defra's maps to illustrate this. Nevertheless, the article is good and can be read in full, on this link.

Our more down to earth (and earlier?) view on these spoligotype groupings were covered in this 2006 post we looked again in 2008, and more recently in this 2012 posting.
And in 2007, Farmers Guardian also covered what Professor Boyd describes as the 'regional accents' of m.bovis.

For some time now, molecular geneticists have said that true cattle tuberculosis was eradicated by the country wide screens of the 1960s.

What we have now is 'badger adapted' tuberculosis feeding back up into sentinel tested cattle, and despite Defra's reluctance to publish anything other than the single confirming microbial sample, many hundreds of other mammals.

Professor Boyd finishes his piece with the following observation:

This leads me to an intriguing hypothesis; is SB0140 specifically adapted to survive and thrive in badgers?
You've got it.

But whaddya gonna do about it?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Do the maths.

Various of the advisory bodies on 'bovine' tuberculosis have, over the years, proposed a jointly funded insurance scheme for reactor cattle and possibly consequential losses associated with herd restrictions.

This works well with other diseases, and in some countries, with management policies for any wildlife reservoir, for bT uberculosis. The latest scheme to be hatched up comes from the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE) who will report their cash saving ideas findings in the summer.

Defra's deputy Chief Veterinary officer Alick Simmons, had this to say:
... using insurance in some cases could serve the dual purpose of reduce the liability on taxpayers for animal disease and ‘incentivising the right behaviour’ among farmers.
Weasel words if ever we heard them. But from Lee McDonough, Defra’s director for animal health and welfare, a more realistic approach. She commented:
AHWBE has had ‘some initial engagement with the traditional end of the insurance industry’. She admitted there are ‘complication and hurdles to get past’, the biggest of which appears to insurance companies’ concern that the disease risk is simply too big.
Farmers Guardian has the full story.

But back to those 'complications' and 'hurdles'. A decade ago, Owen Paterson, as shadow minister, asked exactly the same question regarding the underwriting of bTuberculosis by the main loss adjusters.
After they'd finished laughing, the answer then was:
Recent contact with insurance industry early in 2003 indicated that, although companies are honouring existing policies, they are not offering new policies to cover TB in cattle herds, particularly in areas where TB is increasingly prevalent. This is because farmers do not wish to take the cover in areas where the risk is low (such as Yorkshire), but do wish to purchase cover in areas of high incidence (such as the South West).

However, the insurance companies consider that the financial risks in offering insurance policies in areas of high incidence are too high at present.

In 2003, when that PQ was asked,  5,460 herds in great Britain had TB restriction notices served and Defra shot 23,972 cattle.

In 2012, 9,032 herds in Great Britain  had TB restriction notices served and Defra shot 37,754 cattle.

 Do the maths. The insurance industry has .... and if exposure to risk was too high in 2003, just take a long, hard, look at it now.

Insurance companies are in business to make profit and TB premiums drawn from farmers still able to get insurance, are hemorrhaging the company's bottom line profit when they make the inevitable claims.

And insurance companies are not in the habit of offering umbrellas when it's raining.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

They don't like it up 'em...

During the last year or so, some Welsh badgers have had the benefit - or not - of a very expensive BCG jab.

 Ignoring the protocol adopted by the FERA 2010 'trial', which pre-screened its badgers for existing evidence of exposure to disease - and rejected about half - the Welsh teams ploughed into a grossly infected population regardless. They trapped any badger who volunteered - infected or not, and, while offering sympathy and often a TV camera, jabbed and released it.

The cost of this charade was revealed in this FW article as £662 per badger.

 But the latest figures released by Defra show that in January 2013, in the whole of Wales, cattle herds restricted by 'Badger' Tuberculosis numbered 1173. This is a 29 per cent increase over January 2012, when 906 herds were under restriction.

But in the Dyfyd area, which includes the 1,424 badgers jabbed with BCG in Pembroke, the increase is 31 per cent. Up from 487 herds under restriction in 2012 to 639 in January 2013.

 And Farmers Guardian reports an almost doubling of cattle slaughterings for Wales in January 2013.
In Wales, the number of cattle slaughtered in the month nearly doubled to in excess of 800, compared with January 2012, despite the Welsh badger vaccination programme getting under way last year.
So despite £662 per badger, and a blaze of publicity, if results are anything to go on, it could be said that those vaccinated Welsh badgers really don't like it up 'em..

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Words fail us...

There seems to be a confusion about the colloquial title of the zoonotic bacteria known as 'Bovine' Tuberculosis in that it affects cattle - otherwise why would it be called 'bovine', Duh - but affects nothing else.

Whenever there is a badgery story or a cull feature in the newspapers, the Tweeters and Twitterers crawl out, many confirming their total ignorance of this disease. That is one of the reasons why we zapped the comment section on this site. Repetition and tiresome repetition which just confirmed the mind numbing ignorance of many commentators. And incidentally gave us an illuminating insight into the so-called education which many  of these baby Tweeters have received.

 Drumming up support for Brian May's anti cull marches, a story from Somerset carried some real howlers. Here is one such:
"bTB isnt TB, but I suspect you already know that ;-) To put it into perspective you've far more chance of getting struck by lightening than you have contracting bTB.”
Really? Ask Dianne Summers how she feels after eleven months of chemo-therapy, and now facing the removal of part of her lung. But we digress.

Several people affected by 'badger' Tuberculosis in the last few years, have caught it from their pets and companion mammals, who have had contact with infected badgers. These are the tip of an iceberg of exposure to this bacterium which we as a population, have never faced before. Milk was the easy bit. Test and slaughter the cows, pasteurise milk. Job done. But infected badgers? In your garden? In the kid's sandpit? Coughing over your cat, your alpaca, your dog? Tuberculosis is a slow burn disease. Exposure to the bacteria which cause it, now may take years to show itself. But eventually it will.

We are also up against the establishment with the reporting of m. bovis as a particular strain of tuberculosis. AHVLA describe the reporting and index case screen as a 'one way street', with possible exposure to farmers and vets passed up the chain to the Health Protection Agency, (HPA) but a big fat zilch in the other direction. HPA operate in their own private bubble.

 So for example, if a patient presents with possible 'tuberculosis', (which most doctors will have only read about, and HPA still refuse to acknowledge any other source for, except foreign travel, unpasteurised milk, homeless shelters and drugs) the diagnosis is recorded as m. tuberculosis complex.

Drugs are tailored appropriately and few spoligotype screens are done, except possibly in inner cities. But the drug regime for m.bovis is substantially different from that required for m.tuberculosis, and it is often altered to accommodate bovis, without the original data being changed. Both strains belong of course, to the group m. tuberculosis complex so technically .......

Thus a degree of under reporting is occurring. To what level, we can't say. But we can and do listen to the health professionals who administer these different drugs, and they tell us that m. bovis is 'substantially' under reported.

So to all you Twitterers, who genuinely think 'bovine' tuberculosis is a disease of cattle, and that they pass it to innocent badgers. Wake up. Another comment from the link above says it far more succinctly - but less politely, than we could:
It's that word 'bovine' plus an unshakable faith in badgerism. A cult job. Government couldn't give a flying Fork about cattle - or badgers, for that matter. But m.bovis is under OIE and EU statutes as a Grade 3 zoonosis which they must eradicate to protect mutts like XXXXXXXXX. But when you read comments like that, you really wonder why.”
For information, 'OIE' is the acronym for the Office des Internationale Epizooties and a zoonotic disease is one which affect animals, from which infection can pass to human beings.
 More on the different branches and known hosts of the bacteria within m.tuberculosis complex can be found on this yoosfool link.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A catch up ....

Apologies from blogger HQ - blogging light this week. This posting will be a catch upon some of our recent postings.

First an update on Dianne Summer's progress, after her recent scans and biopsies.
She tells us that unfortunately the scans revealed that she still has active infection in the lung lesion. This after 11 ( yes, that is eleven) months of drug therapy, which has just about floored her. And if that wasn't enough, she described the biopsy to remove samples for culture, as 'horrendous'.

Unable to be inserted nasally, the procedure involved inserting a tube through Dianne's mouth into her lung. Her face was covered with a mask to prevent infection to those conducting the tests and her blood pressure went through the roof. This poking and prodding lasted about half an hour.
We wish that Defra would take the control of so called 'bovine' tuberculosis as seriously.

Dianne's consultants are divided as to the next step in her treatment. One suggests removal of the affected upper lung lobe, while another wants to continue the drug therapy for a few more months.

She is not out of the woods yet.

So, a timely wake up call for all those pushing for abandoning all TB control in cattle, on the grounds of pasteurisation, abattoir surveillance and cost. That attitude is just plain reckless, when 'bovine' TB is infecting companion animals, pets and many other mammals.
 Those 35,000 sentinel 'messengers' which Defra shot last year, were telling us something. We ignore their message at our peril. This level of environmental 'bovine' tuberculosis is causing a dangerous spill over into many other mammals, and passing the cost of Dianne Summer's illness - identified as the same spoligotype as her dead alpacas, none of which had had contact with cattle - to a cash strapped NHS is not very smart.

Last month we reported outbreaks of tuberculosis occurring this year in 'TB free' Germany and Switzerland. Here it may be prudent to point out that 'TB free' does not mean zero cases. The term refers to the OIE's (Office of International Epizooties) definition of  what is officially tuberculosis free, from which Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions extracted the following answer:

 20th November 2003: column 1205W [ 140308]
The Office of International Epizooties (OIE) provides expertise for the control of animal diseases. Article of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health code states that for a country or zone to qualify officially as officially free from bovine tuberculosis,it shall satisfy the following requirements:
* bovine tuberculosis is notifiable in the country.
* 99.8 per cent of the herds in the considered geographical area have been officially free from bovine tuberculosis for at least the past three years as disclosed by periodic testing of all cattle in the area to determine the absence of bovine tuberculosis.
(Periodic testing of all cattle is not required in an area where a surveillance programme reveals that 99.9 per cent of the cattle have been in herds officially free from tuberculosis for at least six years).
We have already pointed out that in this area of the EU, sales of milk are banned from affected farms until they test clear; although if such farms can find dedicated transport and a manufacturing route, then the product may be turned into powder. But we understand that sales of meat are also banned.
The cost of all this is shared between government, farmer and private insurance with compensation paid for cattle taken. This money comes from the compulsory insurance + Government contribution but for production losses private insurance is needed. (In the hot spot areas of GB, no such insurance is available. Where it may still be offered, premiums have more than doubled and pay outs halved.)

 Diagnosis of TB in Germany and Switzerland, is primarily the intradermal skin test, followed by PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction ) screens on inconclusive reactors.

Meanwhile, as Dianne Summers attempts to get her life back (her lung appears to be past repair), cattle farmers struggle with restrictions piled on restrictions piled on restrictions and the word 'Tuberculosis' fades from view - if it was ever there in the first place - the Twits and Tweeters are planning a March.

Nice poster. Shame about the message.

This disease is not about cattle, or badgers.
Already we are seeing spillover to and consequential human infections from companion mammals and domestic pets.

An eradication programme should seek to control and eradicate a killer zoonosis -Tuberculosis. Not any single species.

We forget that at our peril.