Sunday, October 20, 2013

Approach with caution?

This last few weeks the media has been full of stories - (link) and cartoons about the numbers of badgers alleged to live in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. We have offered our collective opinion of this inherited, but extraordinarily daft idea - (link)  many times, and do not propose to comment further - other than to add that it is the health or otherwise of badgers remaining after any cull which is important.

How many were shot in a certain area, during a very short period of time by marksmen swaddled into a cats cradle of bureaucratic nonsense is immaterial to the control or prevention of disease - especially if the individuals remaining are the highly infectious 'super excreters', excluded from the clan. But we digress.....

While the polemic grows wider and people from all walks of life hold vociferous opinions about cattle and cattle farmers, many appear  to forget what should be the true target of any zTuberculosis eradication programme.

That is the bacteria known as m.bovis (left pic) which should be approached with extreme caution at all times.

This slide has been stained  pink to show clusters of it forming  lethal expanding 'colonies' or tubercles.

 Below (right) is a single rod shaped bacterium.

Although it is a heavy organism and unlike Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus, rarely moved on natural air currents, a cough or spit with aerosol power behind it  from an infected person or animal with open lung lesions (or urine and pus from an infected badger) can spread it readily. It can enter its next victim through inhalation ( lungs) ingestion ( mouth) or through open wounds. It has been known to enter through the skin.

 But more virulent than the bacteria lurking in these droplets are the same bugs after the sputum (or infected fresh product)  has long dried to dust.

This dust debris can be airborne and is particularly lethal: a fact discovered over 100 years ago by Professor Koch and the concept repeated at intervals since.

Apparently, a method to establish this method of spread, was for an infected person to cough over a box of guinea pigs. This resulted in very few developing disease.

But dry dust collected from areas where infected people or animals had lived, wafted over the box of guinea pigs, usually resulted in all the animals contracting tuberculosis.

When colonies of zoonotic Tuberculosis (m.bovis)  infect a  lung, it begins to look like this.
A mass of pus filled tubercles encased in thick scar tissue, which prevent air from reaching the lung.

Eventually the victim suffocates and dies.

Antibiotic treatment for humans is protracted and offers no certainty of a successful outcome, particularly if offered late in the progression of the disease.. 

So, why is Defra playing around with this zoonotic killer?  Or more to the point, allowing its various arms including quangoes Natural England, FERA and AHVLA to play?

We pointed out in this posting - (link) the extraordinarily slap happy way in which BCG vaccination for badgers was being attempted piecemeal by 'volunteers' in patches of land all over the South West.

Chief Scientist at AHVLA, Prof. Glyn Hewinson says it is to 'build farmer confidence' in it. He explains:
"In England, the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project has involved trapping and vaccinating badgers in a 100km2 area near Stroud in Gloucestershire. The primary aims of the project are to learn lessons about the practicalities of deploying an injectable vaccine; provide training for others who may wish to apply for a license to vaccinate badgers; and build farmers confidence n the use of badger vaccination.
Defra is providing funds to cover 50% of the cost of becoming an accredited and certified lay vaccinator and has extended the availability of its vaccination fund to cover 2013 training courses for members of voluntary and community sector organisations.
So far, 137 lay vaccinators have been trained on the cage trapping and vaccination of badgers."
We understand that to be effective, any vaccine needs to have high and proven efficacy, be aimed at over 80 per cent of its target population and be administered to candidates who have no underlying health problems, particularly the one being vaccinated against. Live vaccines (such as BCG ) attract special protocols, which in the EU, do not include their use by 'lay vaccinators' with a few hours training.

So what are the credentials of BCG for badgers?  The product which Prof. Hewinson is so keen to use,  to 'build farmer confidence?'

No efficacy data was submitted to (VMD) Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Thus the product was launched with a modeled benefit of 54 per cent based on blood tests (not postmortem ) after an unmonitored, uncertain exposure. Thus BCG for badgers holds a 'Limited Marketing Authority' license which means its benefits outweigh any harm.
No head or whisker count is undertaken before the start of a trap session, so no one has the slightest idea of population coverage in the 2 nights only allowed for trapping at a single site or sett..
No pre screening of trapped badgers for zTuberculosis (unlike the FERA trial) so there is no idea of the health status of the badgers being indiscriminately jabbed, or their identification for any follow up.
With no permanent identification marker of which we are aware, it is possible that the same badger may be caught and vaccinated on more than one night, further reducing the percentage vaccinated. Temporary spray markers on animal coats are just that - they can disappear quite quickly. 

And how can results of this latest charade possibly be monitored?
Is it a 'project',  a 'pilot',  a 'process' or more 'prevarication?'  At best, we see it as a dangerous prevarication which goes no way towards 'building confidence' in anything at all, but pensions for FERA / AHVLA staff.
And more dead cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, alpacas and domestic pets.

But possibly the daftest most dangerous thing we have seen so far in this rush to grab the latest comfort blanket and avoid the inevitable, is the cavalier way in which these animals (badgers of unknown disease status) are approached for treatment, collars or any other beneficial-to-the-operator projects.

Bearing in mind we are talking of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen here, eradication of which is by International statute to protect human beings and pictures of its effect shown above, one would have thought a degree of common sense would have prevailed? Not a bit of it.

Hard on the heels of a Crown Censure - (link) attracted by AHVLA laboratories operating at Starcross and Weybridge for failing to provide staff with adequate protection when dealing with items which may have been contaminated with zTuberculosis, we came across this gem, doing the rounds of Faceache .- (link)

In this short video, a fluffy little poppet from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), complete with bare knees and no gloves or face mask - the very least of which is required for protection against this pathogen - handles the cage containing a trapped wild badger on a farm in Cornwall which has had cattle reactors to zTuberculosis.

We won't point out that radio collars have already been fitted to badgers - (link) and cattle and the report published  in 2009, and that this merely repeats at least one already completed project. Yes we will.
And we'll also reiterate how very 'valuable' the poor old tuberculous badger has become, as the source of all this work these handouts.

But given the pictures in this post of a deadly zoonotic bacteria, we are absolutely staggered at the complacency with which many of these people  idiots are approaching and handling an animal which may be carrying it and which are more than prepared to share it.

In a healthy young person,  zoonotic Tuberculosis can remain walled up and hidden for decades, so they may not even realise that they have been infected for many years.......

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