Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An excellent day ..

... for the zoonotic Tuberculosis bacteria, known as mycobacterium bovis everywhere. In the shape of the great badger saviour, Dr. Brian May and his extraordinarily deep pockets, all its Christmases have come together.

Yesterday, (26th November) May's 'Save Me' campaign funded an 'exceptionally urgent' High Court challenge to halt the extension to the Gloucestershire -(link) pilot badger cull.

Please note Update Farmers Weekly interactive report that the High Court challenge has failed - (link)

But from the earlier Farmers Guardian report this morning:
John Cooper QC said: “From the material I have seen already, it is clear that appropriate procedures have not been taken in relation to this action, which will inevitably lead to the destruction of more wildlife if the Government remains unchallenged.

“In all the circumstances and for the grounds we have set out, we assert that the decisions made by Defra, the Secretary of State and Natural England, separately and or cumulatively were unreasonable and should be immediately revoked.”
Other quotes in the FG piece refer to the number of badgers culled out of an uncertain and moving target within a certain time frame and the subsequent effect on zTuberculosis levels in cattle. Not forgetting of course, other mammals which May's groupies and Defra would prefer to airbrush. Which is a bit bloody rich considering the disastrous launch with cage traps into grossly infected badger populations with cage traps for just 8 nights, undertaken by the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial almost two decades ago.

And as we predicted, the polemic widens, with poor old Monty Don having to close his Twitter account - (link) after a deluge of abuse. He mentioned that control of the badger population was probably necessary.
Responding to a request to join a march against the cull, Mr Don, who succeeded Jonathan Dimbleby as President of the Soil Association in 2008, tweeted: “Not sure whether the cull is in principle a bad thing. Probably ineffective but not necessarily wrong as a trial.”

Later, as opponents of the policy questioned his comments, he added that the cull was ‘an honest attempt to control TB’.

He said: “We cull many animals – don’t know why badgers get special treatment.”
Quite. Apart from becoming a 'cult' animal for a few and a beneficial cash cow revenue stream for many, badgers are the main predator of many ground nesting birds, bees and wasps (via nests) hedgehogs and small invertebrates. And they dig up carrots. But as more land developments proceed, even if their ancestral homes are protected by statute, their grazing habitats may not be. A consequence is territorial displacement and the perturbation which then explodes the disease which is endemic in the population.

Those statements are not the fanciful wishes of your editors: they are contained in the answers to PQs archived on this site from Owen Paterson's 2003/04 questions. Scroll down to 2004 and read them.

 This is not a debate about badgers or cattle. Controlling the spread of a zoonotic Grade 3 pathogen needs no debate at all. It is by statute an undertaking Governments must adhere to, to protect human health.

 But as the rift grows between the misguided people who want to 'save' all the badgers regardless of their disease status, the ambitious and unscrupulous pseudo scientists who play the 'vaccination' card as an alternative to disease control and those who want a meaningful control of zTB, the only 'winner' is the zoonotic bacteria which infected badgers share so easily.

 This is a comment found on one of the few sites which still allow badgerists that sort of platform:
“The longer this sorry debate drags on, the weaker the democratic process looks. I don't think peaceful protest is working. The innocent are still dying. Until the badger killers are actually slaughtered on the job themselves by the same gunfire they are using against these defenceless creatures, we shall get nowhere. We need to put people off killing with a dose of their own medicine. It worked in World War 2. Democracy has to be fought for - it doesn't just happen.”
That was a comment in a Westcountry online newspaper. And from the fragrant Chris Packham, he of the BBC Badger Benefit club, comments on his Twitter account recently earned him a severe rap on the knuckles after an enquiry into his 'intemperate' comments by Lord Hall of Birkenhead. At the start of the pilot culls, Packham's Tweets included this little gem:
"Tonight could be the darkest for British wildlife that we have witnessed in our lives. [] ..that brutalist thugs, liars and frauds will destroy our wildlife and dishonour our nation's reputation as conservationists and animal lovers."
So Merry Christmas to the zoonotic Tuberculosis bacteria of Gloucestershire. Brian May and Chris Packham love you all.

Incidentally as happened in the RBCT, we're hearing from Gloucestershire of the back up cage traps trashed, intimidation, damage and trespass. In fact complete chaos in an area where FERA's Mark Chambers told us that around 43 per cent of the badgers were infected and that this was "typical of badgers in areas on endemic zTB".

 In that area (Gloucestershire) as well as sentinel tested reactor cattle, we also have reported bison, alpacas and sheep as spill over victims of this bacterium which badgerists are sooooo keen to protect.

So this latest High Court challenge proves an excellent day indeed, for zoonotic bacteria everywhere - on what should be an incontrovertible Public Health issue.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

zTuberculosis - a very personal battle.

While Brian May's groupies chitter on about 'saving' tuberculous badgers and Defra wring their collective hands while counting the exorbitant cost of slaughtering sentinel, tested reactor cattle (not to mention sheep, alpacas, goats and deer), a very poignant reminder has appeared on FACEBOOK - [link] as to why the eradication of this disease is so very necessary.

It tells the story of one person's father and his very personal battle, not with badgers, cattle, alpacas, sheep or the family cat, but with tuberculosis. A battle which inevitably, he lost.We quote it in full:
"My father, a minister in Scotland during the war, contracted TB at some point, and its effects were to be devastating to us all. At first it lay dormant, as it often does - but by the time I came along, some ten years later, it was starting to make its presence felt.

By this time he was a professor, and had had to move to the city, and a combination of winter smog and the pressures of his new job resulted in a twelve month stay in hospital. We moved to the country, where at least there was no smog, and life settled down.

As a child I simply accepted that he loved walking, but that hills defeated him; loved rugby but was never able to join in our back garden games. I can recall so well the sound of his breathing as he climbed the stairs, the noisy laboured sound so familiar and almost comforting to me, but a 'not-rightness' about it which worried me too. His coughing fits were frightening, his gasping for breath, the veins standing out on his forehead - but he was fiercely independent and we were never allowed to offer sympathy, or discuss his illness, and the TB word was never mentioned.

I was eleven years old when he collapsed again. I knew I had to be brave, but once he and Ma had gone to the hospital, I cried and cried as never before, terrified that we were losing him, my brother unable to comfort me.

He was in hospital for months again. I still have the letter he sent me for my twelfth birthday, sweet, funny and self-deprecating, it still makes me smile - and cry - when I read it now.

Eventually we were allowed to visit him, and I carefully chose a copy of 'Punch' magazine from a newsstand to take him, desperately wanting him to laugh again, for everything to be all right once more. He came home at last, and threw himself into his work.

He was hugely popular with colleagues and students alike, and he impatiently brushed aside any intrusive questions as to his health. I had my skin test at school for the BCG injection, and of course my arm blew up like a balloon - and at last my mother explained to me that he had tuberculosis, but that he didn't want anyone to know.

He wrote a brilliant but controversial book about Scotland and the terrible injustices of the Highland Clearances, drawing on the experiences of his Hebridean forbears. He was constantly in demand, at the very peak of his career - and he was failing..

He 'raged against the dying of the light', even as this awful thing was engulfing him; working feverishly, trying to finish another book, write lectures, address students, even as his hopelessly damaged lungs started to let him down. He collapsed again, but this time there was to be no recovery.

Tuberculosis finally defeated him; he was 58, and I was days away from my 18th birthday.

And within a few years of his death, we had TB virtually eradicated from the UK. We forget the awful toll it used to take on children and adults alike, and generations have grown up never having seen its effects. But we belittle it and forget it at our peril - because by allowing it to rampage unchecked through our badger population, we have put ourselves and our children, and our children's children, at risk once more, and it is stupidity beyond belief. TB is still a killer disease, and it's still there, waiting for any of us, just over the hedge."
We can add nothing to that.

What we see happening now IS stupidity beyond belief.
 Tuberculosis IS still the killer disease it always was, particularly if not diagnosed and treated early enough.
 It IS now plastered over our environment, and it IS waiting to pounce, from just over the hedge.

And in many cases, the current generation of health professionals, vets and vaccinators are unaware of the not inconsiderable risks this disease carries. 

For some [- link] the warning is too late. For others - [link] although 'treated', the disease may remain and their lung capacity and thus lifestyle, be severely impaired for the rest of their lives. We play with the bacterium which causes zTuberculosis at our population's - [link] peril.

 But by concentrating polemic surrounding zoonotic tuberculosis merely to its animal victims and tested dead sentinels, 'playing with it' - [link] is exactly what we are doing.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

BCG in Spain - a modelled scenario.

In GB, we are not alone in torturing the old BCG (Bacillus calmette-guerin)  vaccine into some sort of alternative control for  zTuberculosis in wild life reservoirs of the disease.

We understand that if it works at all, BCG is better at preventing 'extra pulmonary' lesions. Which means that lung (or pulmonary) lesions are still a problem and a source of spread of the disease - including or even especially to BCG vaccinated human contacts - [link]

Reporting earlier in August this year is a paper - (link) which discusses the modeled effectiveness of BCG, in controlling zoonotic Tuberculosis in wild boar, one of the wildlife reservoirs of the disease in southern Spain.

 The abstract is as follows:

"Bovine tuberculosis is a persistent disease of livestock in many parts of the world, especially where wildlife hosts co-exist with livestock. In south-western Spain, despite the widespread implementation of test-and-cull strategies for cattle, the herd prevalence in areas with high wild boar densities remains stable. The control of M. bovis infection in wild boar is likely to be essential for effective disease control in livestock."
The control of a zoonotic disease in any wildlife reservoir is essential, but we all know that don't 'we'? The authors of this paper, including British scientists from York University, developed an individual-based model to evaluate whether vaccinating wild boar piglets with oral BCG bait would be an effective strategy to reduce the prevalence of M. bovis infection in wild boar populations and thus the effect on farmed cattle.
The abstract explains their modelled method:
"Specifically, we quantified the proportion of piglets requiring vaccination and the number of years the vaccination programme would need to continue to eradicate bTB from wild boar within 25 years, comparing ‘managed’ populations on hunting estates where supplementary food is provided, [and populations controlled - ed] with ‘unmanaged’, free-living populations. Successful vaccination was defined as the proportion of piglets that were delivered the vaccine and were effectively protected from infection."
The key results of this exercise were as follows:
"Longer-term (25-year) vaccination strategies were more successful than short-term (5-year) strategies at either eradicating M. bovis or reducing it to below 90% of its original prevalence.

M. bovis infection could be eradicated under a 25-year vaccination strategy if 80% of piglets were vaccinated in a managed population or 70% of piglets were vaccinated in an unmanaged population. In contrast, 5-year strategies in which 80% of piglets were vaccinated reduced only by 27% or 8% in the managed and unmanaged populations, respectively."
Just so there is no misunderstanding of this result, the model showed that when oral bait was thrown at 'unmanaged'  free living, wild populations of wild boar in Spain, the take up necessary by the young piglets to give any protection again z Tuberculosis required 25 years of baiting and a coverage of 70 per cent of the population. A lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' but the gist is, coverage has to be very comprehensive and the time scale very long. And that the programme is aimed at a population whose size, health and welfare is controlled or 'managed'.

 Conversely if vaccination was offered over 5 years to an 'unmanaged' population the effect was just 8 per cent drop in disease spill over.

 Compare this more realistic (if mathematically modeled) scenario to the outrageous claims (- link) being made for a single dose, ad hoc vaccination programme on an unmanaged, wild population of grossly infected British badgers - and weep.

The paper concluded that:
"The results of our simulation model, coupled with the promising results of initial vaccine and oral bait- uptake trials in wild boar indicated that vaccination could be an effective strategy to reduce the prevalence of M. bovis infection in wild boar if used in conjunction with other disease-control measures."
Before anyone gets over excited and does an abbreviated cut/paste on that snippet, please note the end of that particular sentence:
 Vaccination of unmanaged wild boar in Spain, may have a part to play over a 25 year zTB eradication strategy, "if used in conjunction with other disease-control measures".  

Disease control measures as in 'managing' the population? And removing the grossly infected pockets?