Sunday, June 30, 2013

Zoonotic tuberculosis in the news

Very slowly, the dead tree media is catching up with bovine zoonotic tuberculosis's ability to affect the general public. The Telegraph reports research from Edinburgh which has identified more cats than was thought, have contacted the disease.
Veterinarians believe domestic cats could be catching the disease by venturing into badger setts or from rodents that have been in badger setts. They could also catch it directly from cattle or from infected milk. While the findings may raise fears that domestic pets are helping to spread TB among cattle, vets said the risk to human health was of greater concern.
There are some pretty sweeping assumptions there, but you get the gist.
Cats can catch what most people assume is a 'bovine' disease - but it may arrive on your hearthrug from animals other than bovines.
 That's the whole point of controlling any wildlife source of a zoonosis. Such diseases infect people. It's what they do, either directly or via another animal. In this case, the family cat.

There is a distinct under playing of concern in this article, which incidentally flies in the face of the comment from the Cheltenham Science Festival debate, which we reported in this posting.

Here a speaker from that debate reported that afterwards, a health worker in the audience explained that in her professional capacity, she was treating 8 people for zoonotic tuberculosis, which they had caught from their cats.

 The Telegraph's article quotes Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore, a researcher in feline medicine who has been studying the presence of TB in cats and who led the study, which is published in the journal of Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. She concludes:
“This study has revealed that the potential incidence of feline mycobacteriosis in Great Britain is higher than previously thought. These findings suggest that these infections are a common cause of clinical significant disease in cats in Great Britain and more work needs to further improve our understanding of these infections.”
Predictably, they never lose an opportunity to request  'more research' do they?

But the other thing to remember when looking at Defra's reported numbers for 'other species' including cats, is that they are for the single positive confirming sample only. And for any post mortem to be without cost, the veterinary practitioner must be a) treating the animal and must suspect zoonotic tuberculosis and b) report it to AHVLA as such. Otherwise, as well as a dead cat, the owner may face a bill for over £100 to tell him why it expired.
A hole in the garden may prove the cheaper option.

And just as Defra's Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP heads for New York to promote trade talks and exports (particularly of specialist cheeses)  the dead tree media can be relied upon to hoover up some old news to put a spanner in the works.

For more than half a century,  cattle which have 'reacted' to the skin test have been compulsorily slaughtered. And once passed by a Meat Hygiene inspector, if they prove fit for human consumption, that is where they end up. We eat them.

Hiding behind a pay wall, the Sunday Times started the rush on this new old story, while many others followed word for word, with a tad more detail particularly of salvage value, in the Sunday Express. This tsunami of bad news left Defra  fighting a very short rearguard action,  with a response denying any risk to the public of them selling cattle which have reacted to the skin test into the food chain. Salvage value of cattle consigned last year is said by the Express to be over £9m.

All very convenient, don't you think?

Risk there may not be, but public perception and PR is pretty important and beef prices were enjoying somewhat of a renaissance after the unlabeled Shergar debacle. But for how long?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

'Seal' of approval?

This post has been updated.

This weeks' media is full of the story of an injured seal pup washed up in Cornwall, which was subsequently found to have 'bovine' Zoonotic tuberculosis, now identified as a strain found in West Wales.

The report says that this is a unique occurrence, and that no seal has been found with bovine Zoonotic tuberculosis before. Not according to German molecular geneticists Brosch et al, who describe the progression of this bacterium through its DNA as 'developing over thousands of years and now firmly established in:
"... natural host spectra as diverse as humans in Africa, voles on the Orkney Isles(UK), seals in Argentina, goats in Spain, and badgers in the UK." [Brosch et al]
So it is well known that seals can be a wildlife host - but in Argentina. No mention of cattle there either - even for a bacterium with the tag of 'bovine'. Not one. And such geneticists (not celebrity rock stars who just lurve badgers) say that analysis of recent work suggests that true cattle TB was eliminated by the 1970s, and what we have now is badger adapted TB spreading back into the environment.

Which is pretty much what the current Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Boyd, said in his explanation of the genetic development of m. bovis which we reported in this posting.

So how did this seal pup arrive, injured, in Cornwall with a variety of bovine Zoonotic tuberculosis unique to Wales? Cows roaming the beaches of Wales? Nasty farmers infecting all and sundry with their illegally dumped cattle excretions? All and others have been suggested. What part of 'bovine' are you missing, is the usual snipe. And it's called 'bovine' tuberculosis because it 'only infects cattle', is the mantra believed by many dangerously misguided souls.

But many farmers and people who live in coastal areas have reported that badgers are regularly and increasingly seen on beaches, in sand dunes and near the high water line. So it not surprising at all to find a young pup, having sustained what is thought to be a bite wound from a badger, which in turn transmitted generalised tuberculosis.

What is irritating is the assumption that this story is propaganda put out by Defra to support a badger management strategy, but even more irritating shameful is the continued reference to those 'other species' statistics, peddled by Defra, which show the single (one) confirming microbial sample at the beginning of a disease outbreak.

As we've said many times since this came to our attention in 2010, this is deliberate manipulation of the spill over of a deadly zoonosis into other mammals, particularly pets and companion animals. It is inaccurate, recklessly dangerous, and it has to stop.

In late January, we thought a new broom had managed to count most of those 'other species' TB deaths and publish them. Particularly after media reports detailing over 400 alpacas, dead in a single outbreak of bovine zoonotic tuberculosis in June 2012. But no, Defra's table shows 35 alpaca samples for that year, which is what a gullible media hoover up and spit out.

Defra's new, improved tables proved just as inaccurate at adding 2 + 2 and when this was pointed out, they were removed for 'correction'. That was on January 28th 2013.
They too have 'disappeared'.

However, we look forward to seeing the addition of another line in the tables for this Cornish seal, with a Welsh spoligotype of bovine  Zoonotic tuberculosis - in due course. And when, finally those damn tables are accurately reflecting the number of deaths, not just single samples, they may get our 'seal' of approval.

Comments about this story led us to paper published in 1986, in which bovine zoonotic tuberculosis was identified in seals which had died at a marine park in Australia.  Subsequent spoligotyping made a link from them, with onwards transmission to their keeper at the time of their deaths.

 The Abstract of that paper suggests monitoring of keepers, and seal trainers.
In 1986, three seals died in a marine park in Western Australia; culture of postmortem tissue suggested infection with Mycobacterium bovis.

In 1988, a seal trainer who had been employed at the Western Australian marine park until 1985 developed pulmonary tuberculosis caused by M. bovis while working in a zoo 3,000 km away on the east coast of Australia.

Culture characteristics, biochemical behavior, sodium dodecyl sulphate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and restriction endonuclease analysis suggested that the strains of M. bovis infecting the seals and trainer were identical but unique and differed from reference strains and local cattle strains of M. bovis.

The infection in both the seals and the trainer had a destructive but indolent course.

This is the first time that M. bovis has been observed in seals and the first time that tuberculous infection has been documented to be transmitted from seals to humans. Further investigation of the extent of tuberculous infection in seal populations elsewhere in the world seems warranted, and those working with seals and other marine animals should be monitored for infection.

Monday, June 24, 2013

RSPCA - A Charity?

Going with that title, 'Charity' comes a responsibility not to pedal untruths, we would have thought.

 But this week the RSPCA have taken out adverts in the media, leading Farmers Guardian to report a spluttering by Defra minister, Richard Benyon branding the charity 'a disgrace'.

They say that they would rather Vaccinate?
This, even when a previous Defra minster (Jim Paice)has called the published claims for vaccination research 'misleading and unhelpful'?
And especially when Defra has instructed its henchmen not to support claims of efficacy for the data at all?
And even when no efficacy data was submitted to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and thus the vaccination product only holds a Limited Marketing Authority license, meaning that in badgers pre screened for disease, 'it does no harm'?

 Neither would bottled water.

But it is the use of the 'E' word that is so misleading and emotive. When 110 such areas as the proposed pilot culls could be fitted into Wales and counties of the far South West, still leaving 25 percent of the land for towns, villages, roads and railways, can badgers be 'exterminated' from 70 percent of just two tiny patches?

And why have these two small pilot culls been approved by the Bern Convention, the very body which oversees the protection of badgers, if 'extermination' was going to be the result?

 The most obvious choice of redress is the Advertising Standards Authority where complaints can be made on line.

But the basis of this outrageous claim, which has a current Defra minister sooooo outraged, may also be of interest to another arm of government, the Charities Commission, who have a final say on membership of such a highly valued tax haven.

 Remember the word which the RSPCA used in their advertisements - 'Exterminate'. That is far beyond a 'disgrace'. It is a lie.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ignorance is bliss

Recently, we took a leaf out America's handbook and rechristened 'bovine' tuberculosis  Zoonotic tuberculosis. This was because the Tweeters and Twitterers and some people who really should know better, appeared confused by the word 'bovine', assuming that this type of disease affected cattle - and only cattle.

But a raft of media reports this week, have described an outbreak of zoonotic tuberculosis in beef cattle grazing Greenham common in Berkshire.
Comfortingly, a spokesperson from Public Health England is reported to have said:
"the risk to humans is negligible as bovine TB is a different strain to the disease that can affect humans."
That statement appears in every report published, including (or especially) the BBC one, which many plagiarise. Leaving aside the grammatical niceties of that brief statement, it is mind blowingly, stupidly and dangerously inaccurate.
While still hooked up on the risk to humans from unpasteurised milk, this government agency does say in its blumph about Zoonotic tuberculosis:
It is not possible to clinically differentiate between TB caused by M. bovis and that caused by M. tuberculosis. The course and extent of the disease is the same, as is the treatment in most cases. Standard anti-tuberculosis therapy is effective against TB caused by M. bovis, however, the organism is inherently resistant to the drug pyrazinamide which is therefore omitted once M. bovis has been identified and its drug susceptibility is known.

In cases where there is extensive lymph involvement or damage or obstruction to other tissues, surgery is often indicated. Like M. tuberculosis, M. bovis too has the capacity to acquire drug resistance and ensuring that patients are able take a full course of treatment is similarly essential.
But this born again quango has yet to catch up with the burgeoning reservoir of a fatal zoonosis up spilling from wildlife, not into our tested, slaughtered cattle, but into domestic pets and companion mammals. And from them to their owners. As Phil Latham says in that article (link above):
"It is important to remember why bovine or zoonotic TB is controlled by international conventions – it is because humans can be infected and it beggars belief that infection levels have been allowed to increase both in cattle and wildlife for the last 15 years."
Perhaps someone would be kind enough to remind England's Public Health department of their International obligations and the effect of zoonotic tuberculosis on some of their patients. And quickly.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Not just for Zoonotic tuberculosis ...

... are badgers controlled in other member states within the European Union. Still operating under the Berne Convention, and with closed seasons as well as open, many other states, including the main axis of France and Germany exercise population control of badgers.

 We hear from contributors in Germany that the 'open' season for controlling badgers which may be causing damage to property, crops and livestock is by shooting and runs from August 1st to October 31st. each year. However, any hint of their involvement in the spread of bovine zoonotic tuberculosis and it's 'open' season all year round.

Meanwhile in France, terriers are used to dig out 'les blaireaux' prior to shooting. The control season in France is from May 15th - September 15th., and this is a rough translation of their methods:

"We practice this hunt from May 15 to September 15 in a regulated environment. We are available to persons who suffer damage caused by badgers and foxes.

We make every effort to ensure that the animal does not suffer. We are driven by a common passion for purebred dogs without which searching the tunnels would be impossible. We use Jack Russell terriers, or fox terriers for preference. Sometimes it takes several hours of work to get to the cavity where the badger earth. We stir cubic meters of earth.

Dogs do the work of locating and we'll dig the wells, several meters below, can capture one or more badgers. New member of the Terriers Mount Sacon, Yves discovered this activity: "I hunt for forty years in the plains and I discovered this practice. Without the crew and their dog handlers, it would be impossible to locate badgers. And the worst is yet to do, we dig into all types of terrain. A titanic work, "says the latter.
By a 'regulated environment', they mean at the request of the landowner and with permission of the local 'prefecture' and his superiors. This report came from Sost and Mauleon, about 40 miles south of Toulouse.

Another area which has reported problems and called in 'la chasse' is Doullens, an area between Calais and Amiens.They describe:
Five crews digging up, or Hunting underground had an appointment at 8 am at 30 Daniel Garenne, President of ICG. Their area was mainly located around Doullens.
"Badgers, the number of which in recent times has significant growth pose major problems for hunters and especially farmers, causing damage to crops , "says Daniel Vahé, agent of the Federation of hunters.

Badger is an omnivorous mammal, depending on the season, feeding beet or corn stalks layer to access the ears.
Moreover, as it is also a great digger, he created with its burrows a risk of machine breakdowns by their collapse. The Hunts underground, including the unearthing of badgers is an activity ensuring the regulation of species, adds Daniel Vahe.
These are some of the five crews, together with their terriers, ready for work on May 15th.

And finally, from Limoges, where land owners and the Hunt want a longer season to control badgers and other animals which destroy crops and livestock. This translation is from the annual hunt report.

"The list of work is long: twenty hunting for foxes is unlikely to beat the deer they have let slip through the tall grass, a handful of hunters is to man'uvre to retype the local hunting Bussiere Magdalene, made available by the municipality.

Coypu and forty two badgers day control, three hunters for a badger in a hamlet at the request of an owner, and all the seasons, many villages déterrages , Roux at The Age, The Age of the Curé ... not to mention a survey in a field of corn destroyed at the request of an expert.

But the service does not stop there: hunters have a sacred patience as availability. They are named (called) for the loss of livestock in the field or around the farm when the diagnosis is difficult, local officers may have the backing of the National Guard as was the case in April 2012, in Bussière-Madeleine,
"I was called to a birth devoured by a beast; a calf eaten by - fox, badger, boar or stray dog - explains Jacky Rigaud, the center of the Creuse was contacted and the National Guard came to see, took pictures, have concluded badgers and invited to monitoring, as the opening of this species date is 1st May. "
 The translation is not great, but we get the picture. Badgers are controlled by the hunt (la chasse) whose activities are overseen by the prefecture and other bodies. This ensures the survival of species, but controls outbreaks of damage to property, crops and livestock.

So in Germany and France, badger control is not just for Christmas Zoonotic tuberculosis. Other countries still manage to operate population management when numbers cause problems.

And in the UK, we give that sort of licensing to an organisation which is quite open in its contempt for controlling any badger at any time for any reason.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Snipping the truth.

We have pointed out many times, this brazen and deliberate misquoting editing both of scientific papers and television programmes when it comes to badgers, or indeed the disease which they carry, Zoonotic tuberculosis.

In this week's Telegraph, countryman and writer Robin Page,  having spoken to contributors to a recent BBC 'show', wrote an extensive piece showing just how much celluloid attracts the BBC's editorial scissors, and what a biased view this can give.

He points out that a recent Countryfile programme show was edited to explain that the decline of hedgehogs was due to habitat depletion or passing Reliant Robins. There was no mention of predation by badgers. After contacting a main contributor to the programme, who confirmed that she mentioned the badger point several times, Robin Page concludes:
In my view, this is highly selective editing. I will leave it up to readers – is the badger omission simply a matter of “editorial discretion” or is it the Disneyfication of nature? [snip] In my view it is not objectivity; it seems to be little short of animal-rights propaganda. What is the BBC hierarchy going to do about this unacceptable situation?
We would guess, precisely nothing. A coughing badger is a very valuable asset to many, including or especially,  the British Broadcasting Corporation.

In another snippet from Robin's excellent and informative piece, he describes the arrival of 'bovine' zoonotic tuberculosis into a dairy herd in Dorset which has been 'closed' to cattle movement for decades.
Cattle on a closed dairy farm in Dorset – “closed” meaning that no cattle have moved on to the farm (it has been closed for 99 years) – have suddenly got TB. Since autumn, more than a third of the herd has been slaughtered. And the strain of TB? A virulent form usually found in Exmoor.

This almost certainly means that animal rights campaigners are trapping badgers in the Somerset cull area (illegal) and releasing them in Dorset (illegal) with no concern for the consequences. This also means that healthy Dorset badgers will get TB. It is an act of stupidity and cruelty, as bad as when those misguided hooligans released mink from mink farms into the general countryside several years ago.
We too have described the utter stupidity of allowing businesses to make a living out of translocating badgers 'rescued' from other areas. The risk of disease transmission both to other badgers or any mammal is huge.

But it appears that  the 'asset' value of a badger outstrips common sense. And thus far this loophole has not been closed; which is pretty damned insulting to those of us with cattle under restriction.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Where did it all go wrong...... ?

Having spent the last decade collating and collecting snippets about the non-control of Bovine Zoonotic tuberculosis  in Great Britain and posting them on this site, we thought a potted history may bring our readers up to date. There are many statements flying around which are just fairy stories, and in the next few paragraphs, we will attempt to blow a few myths away.

 During the 1950s and 60s, what was known as the 'Compulsory Eradication ' process swept through the cattle herds of the country, starting at the coasts and working inwards towards the midlands. Testing cattle, and slaughtering those which reacted to the skin test was very successful leaving only a few red dots on the ministry's maps to spoil a complete clearance.

The Badgerists will claim that this clearance this was carried out without a hair of a badger's head being harmed. But that is not true. Farmers were controlling numbers right up until The Badgers Act (1973) made this illegal, hoovered up with action against the obscene 'sport' of badger baiting. Populations were 'managed' and kept stable before and during the eradication process, until 1973.
And TB incidence fell from an estimated 40 per cent of cattle affected in the 1930s to 0.04 per cent at the end of the Compulsory Eradication process.

It was around this time that an infected badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The farm was was having persistent problems getting the herd clear with testing and slaughter of its cattle. It was also noted that in West Cornwall, cattle herds went clear during winter housing, only to go under restriction again after grazing open pastures.

We explored the resulting cattle carnage in this posting, with the aid of the CVO reports from 1972 - 1976.

During the 1970s, badgers were routinely euthanased by the Ministry's wildlife teams, while underground in their social groups, if cattle breakdowns failed to clear with cattle testing and slaughter. And the incidence of Zoonotic tuberculosis dropped to a level which would have allowed TB free trading under the OIE regulations.

That level is set at less than 0.01 per cent of herds affected, and 0.02 per cent of cattle slaughtered in a three year period of surveillance by skin testing and slaughter. Remember that figure: it is important.

 This was the parish map in 1986, showing a handful of breakdowns in  a few clusters. Any population control by landowners, had been banned in 1973.

But in the early 1980s, puppet 'scientists', singing political tunes for their suppers research grants and pensions, came to the fore and veterinary experience and expertise took a back seat.

One of the first reports to cause problems,  was by Lord Zuckerman which concluded that underground euthanasia was fine for rabbits, foxes and moles - but cruel to badgers.

 And although he accepted that badgers were involved in the cycle of 'bovine' tuberculosis, he was going to make it damn difficult for MAFF to control the disease in them. Thus in 1982, gassing was replaced by cage trapping and shooting in a 'ring' of around 7km from the breakdown or until badgers postmortemed 'clean'.. Incidence bumped along at a fairly low rate, with 605 cattle slaughtered in 1982 and 843 in 1985.

 But an even more damaging tweak came in 1987, with the Dunnett report. Another 'scientist' who concluded that badgers played a significant role, but then proceeded to emasculate the Ministry's ability to control Zoonotic tuberculosis in them even more.

 Professor Dunnett's report introduced the 'Interim strategy' which ran from 1987 - 97, while politicians decided what to do about increasing numbers of reactor cattle and wrung their collective hands with the Badgerists. And the reason for this increase?

After Dunnett, the amount of land available to the Ministry of Agriculture's State Veterinary Service to trap on, was cut from 7 km to just 1 km. And then only on land which cattle had grazed. Thus if the badger's ancestral home was in forestry, an arable field or 2km from base, it was off limits. Untouchable.

And cattle slaughtering climbed from 782 in 1986 to 3,760 in 1996 - the last year of any semblance of control by the Ministry at all. A potted chronology can be seen on this link.

But the real nail in the coffin came in 1997, with a £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) and not a little influence from a diminutive Professor, leading the anything but Independent, and arguable most un-Scientific Group of all - the ISG. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial  Badger dispersal trial started in 1997 and no badgers were culled outside its triplet zones. As the RBCT wildlife teams stirred up infected populations occasionally for 8 nights, with time out for FMD, cattle reactors went through the roof.

Those of us unfortunate enough to experience these areas of carnage, were not surprised to see the initial rubbish results but we were surprised at the brazen opportunism, which drove this charade.

Professor Bourne did not say 'culling badgers' would have no place in controlling zoonotic Tuberculsosis in cattle in this country. What he said to the EFRA committee in 2007, we quote again below. Read it and weep.

"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."

Bought and paid for then?

 This is the map of GB's testing  in 2013, with around 40,000 cattle culled annually, over 10 per cent of GB's cattle herds under restriction compared with the OIE's TB free trading level which is set at  0.01 per cent.

And we now have the inevitable spillover of Zoonotic tuberculosis into many other mammals including domestic pets, companion animals and their owners.

This non-eradication policy for zoonotic tuberculosis went so very wrong over the last three decades for two very simple reasons. We have the best administration that lobby money can buy, and a raft of political scientists willing to sell their souls for an index linked pension.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking it seriously.

"Exposure to M. bovis can be a serious health hazard." So said an executive from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), after slapping AHVLA on the wrist, censuring AHVLA for breaches in handling live samples of m.bovis, the causative agent of Zoonotic tuberculosis, over a period of two years.
"The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) completed a Crown censure procedure against the Weybridge-based organisation following an investigation into the handling of samples containing Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - the causative agent of bovine TB, which in some circumstances can be harmful to humans."
Given the seriousness of the disease known as 'tuberculosis', a group term which includes Zoonotic tuberculosis (bovine TB) that's a bit of an understatement, but let that pass.
Farmers Weekly, reported last month an HSE investigation into the handling of live samples for further testing collected at Starcross, Exeter and submitted to Weybridge AHVLA. Their findings included:
* Standard operating procedures were not fit for purpose - they lacked clarity and detail, and did not take proper account of the equipment at Starcross used to inactivate M. bovis, or the experience of personnel at that laboratory.
* The wrong equipment was provided - the equipment provided to the staff at Starcross for the M. bovis inactivation procedure was not the right equipment for the task

. * Training for Starcross technicians was inadequate - personnel undertaking the M. bovis inactivation procedure received no formal training on the process.

* Effectiveness of the inactivation process was not monitored - personnel at Starcross did not routinely check that the inactivation process was working and that the M. bovis samples were safe to handle.

* Managers failed to resolve issues - some operators at Starcross raised concerns about the inactivation process and equipment, but no action was taken.
If a private company or individual had acted in a such a reckless matter during the handling of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, prosecution would be inevitable. However, the report explains:
Crown bodies such as AHVLA, an executive agency of DEFRA, must comply with the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act. However, they are excluded from the provisions for statutory enforcement, including prosecution and penalties.
The Protection of Badgers Act (1992) made provision under Section 10(2)(a) for 'culling to prevent the spread of disease'. The 'disease' carried by these animals, being the very same Zoonotic tuberculosis for which HSE have censured AHVLA so heavily in respect of their employees.

 In his raft of Parliamentary Questions lobbied in 2004, Owen Paterson asked "What was the current policy on the issuing of licenses under this section of the Act, and how many the Secretary of State (then Madame Beckett) expected to issue in the next 5 years. [158605]

The answer given on 18th March 2004, Col 431W was;
Under section 10 (2) (a) - to prevent the spread of disease: "It is current policy not to issue any licenses under sub section 10 (2) (a) to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, except for animals held in captivity."
And since that moratorium on Section 10(2)a) (purchased in 1997 with PAL lobby cash) we have culled no badgers 'to prevent the spread of disease' , except a very few in the RBCT, the operating protocol of which ensured not the control of Zoonotic tuberculosis, but its spread.

 However to the end of 2012, AHVLA have slaughtered 354,084 cattle. They have also been responsible for the slaughter of several thousand 'other species' TB victims, in their quest to eradicate TB from everything else - except badgers. Species affected include alpacas, llamas, bison, pigs, goats, deer and sheep.
Transmission of Zoonotic tuberculosis from these animals, particularly domestic pets and companion animals to their owners, has already been recorded.

How culpable does that make Defra / AHVLA?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Incarcerated ... but safe.

There have been many opinions published when dairy farmers consider keeping cattle inside 24/7.

"But they're grazing animals" tweet the Twits. "They must be free  and in the open air. It's not natural to keep them inside all the time."
But what happens when the badgers which have caused the annihilation of one herd, still have the Right to Roam to reinfect the replacements?

In March, we told the story of one such herd, which AHVLA 'depopulated' - which is a fancy word for slaughtered the lot - after a devastating routine test at the end of January. The habitat of the badgers living next to this farm, had been turned into football pitches, hotels and a leisure facilities, thus displacing their food supply. The result appeared to be a doubling of numbers and territorial scrapping on a huge scale for this dairy herd. This combined with very little UV light last summer, and floods.

There wasn't a field on this farm  without contamination by badger faeces - and it was not in latrines. The cows paid the ultimate price.

Gillian Bothwell has now posted an update to her story, on British Farmers Forum.. In her own words:
You may recall that we lost our entire milking herd in February due to a TB breakdown, thought I'd just update where we are up to now: When the last of the cows had left the farm we got stuck into cleansing and disinfecting, what a soul destroying job that is!! All you can think about is the cows that have gone, I never realised just how difficult a cubicle shed is to completely clean to the standard required, hubby took a week out to visit his family in NI as it hit him very hard.

We then badger proofed the sheds and the maize/wholecrop clamps (feed store in an enclosed shed so that was OK) had two inspections by AHLVA before a license finally granted to buy in some cows. Many tears shed during all of this I can tell you!!
Before restocking, AHVLA had put some very stringent conditions on this farm. None included badgers, but all was geared to keeping them away from the dairy cattle. Gillian continues:
Anyway, we had stipulations as to buying in cows - they had to come from farms with a clear TB history so it was going to be pretty difficult finding large numbers here that we could afford. Eventually we spoke to BACA and went to Germany and selected 130 cows and heifers in total on three trips.

Very interesting trips: the farmers over there have very little knowledge of TB and seemed amazed at our situation with regard to us having to slaughter all our cows whilst the badgers run free.
We're amazed at the situation in this country too - but let that pass.

Gillian tells us that the cattle travelled beautifully and have settled in well - "it just takes a little while and some TLC to get them used to new surroundings, new diet and my husbands strong Irish accent!!!"
 The youngstock and calves from the original herd had been grazing well away from the new sports complex and they have once again tested clear.

But what of these new dairy cattle in their hermetically sealed, AHVLA approved, badger proofed box unit?:
We have made the decision to keep the cows inside this summer where they are safe due to the badger proofing, obviously it will cost us more to feed them but we feel to nervous to turn them out. All in all its been completely hellish and I wouldn't want it to happen to anyone, as well as the heartbreak of losing the cows the cost of it all has been massive.

If you take it all in - loss of 4/5 month's milk sales from 140 cows going through the parlour, cost of buying replacements (compensation doesn't cover it) all the work done to the sheds and clamps, cost of feeding calves that we have not been able to sell due to movement restrictions, cost of spring work with no income, I reckon we are well into six figures.

How is a small family dairy farm supposed to stand a hit like that??
So this farm has " milk going out of the yard again," and in July should see a milk cheque. And the Bothwells say that they are " grateful for good friends for their help, suppliers who are working with us and our AHVLA vet has been very supportive and lastly our three little boys who have kept us going through it all. We just have to keep going and hope we can survive it ."

 But those cattle now stay inside because the badgers are still roaming free to infect - again? And as Gillian has said "we can't go through this a second time." One comment on the BFF post asks: "
"So AHVLA have made you expend time, energy and cash before they have allowed you to restock. Have they spent the same in identifying the source of the infection and eliminating it?
If not why not?"
Good question. A case for screening those badgers? Or have the Bothwell's dairy cows got to stay cooped up for the rest of their lives, just to avoid being infected with Zoonotic Tuberculosis by an animal, deemed by some, to be worth more than a cow?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Not cattle ....

Following the lead of the United States' Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as described in other papers from Africa we shall in future, refer the 'bovine' TB, as Zoonotic tuberculosis.

 The word 'bovine' seems to confuse. And for sure, Team Badger appear to want to confine this debate to cattle versus wildlife. This stance does not take in the wider implications of allowing a deadly zoonosis, with an indefinite incubation period, free rein the British countryside, thus enjoying an inevitable interface with other mammals.

This was bought home quite forcefully during a debate at the Cheltenham Science Festival this week, when a motion to cull manage badgers was discussed and decisively won. The speakers for such management were Roger Blowey, a published veterinary surgeon, and dairy farmer, Phil Latham. Opposing any sort of management - except vaccination - were another vet and the fragrant, badger homing owner of Secret world, Mrs. Pauline Kidner.

But in questions or points from the floor, one speaker announced that in her professional capacity and at the present time, she was treating 8 people in the county of Gloucestershire for Zoonotic tuberculosis - which they had contracted during an up close and personal relationship with the family cat.

 And that dear readers is how distorted this debate has become: cattle v. badgers. Either one or the other, and not parallel action on managing Zoonotic Tuberculosis in both.

The result is many hundreds of dead animals, some companion mammals to human beings. Cats are as much victims of Zoonotic tuberculosis as our tested sentinel cattle, and their owners face an unenviable period of intensive drug therapy, to try and control this evil disease.  The outcome of which is by no means a certainty.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The debate.

Yesterday, a smattering of MPs made the effort to put the case for the management of an acknowledged and proven wildlife source of zoonotic tuberculosis in England, during a 3 hour debate in the House of Commons.

 After spending a productive afternoon taking a metaphorical strimmer to a collection of overgrown weeds (which could have been childish and destructive Members of Parliament) I found the debate very bland. Lacking in much passion at all - except for badgers and their associated political science.

Opposing the motion for the government, Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP, made his point forcefully.

Concentrating on the fact that although we are not the only country to have zoonotic tuberculosis (M. bovis) established in wild mammals, when this disease feeds up into sentinel tested cattle, we are alone in the developed world in ignoring it.

The results of that one sided policy, is that in Great Britain, our statistics for control of this grade 3 pathogen are the worst in the developed world, putting trade at some risk. But human health at considerable risk.

Owen mentioned his visit to Australia, and compared our efforts at eradicating reactor cattle, sheep and alpacas with that of the Republic of Ireland, and New Zealand, who take a wider view of the problem this bacterium causes. He also touched on emerging problems in countries within the European Union, which we have begun to trace recently
 Although some honourable Members failed to see this relevance of a combined action on mycobacterium bovis, preferring the far easier target of England's cattle, of note are NI's Jim Shannon and Sheryll Murray (SE Cornwall) who put their points well.

But possibly the most succinct speech came late in the day from Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnor) who observed:
One thing that we are certain about is that badgers infected with TB can pass it on to cattle, but there are other methods of infection. When there are diseased badgers in fields where cattle are grazing, there is the opportunity for the disease to be transmitted. Although we are cleaning up the disease in cattle, as long as there are infected badgers where they are grazing, the disease can spread. We have heard a lot about increased biosecurity, but the same people advocate natural forms of cattle production—in other words, grazing. As far as I know, there are no biosecurity measures that can keep badgers and cattle apart when cattle are grazing.
Predictably, the destructive base of modern, modelled 'political' science, links to which can be found in this posting was ignored. The motion was defeated by a substantial margin.

But why in the 21st century we should be having a debate at all, about control of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, could have been the subject for this debate. The consequences for our MP's continuing political protection of M. bovis have already proved deadly and profound.

Zoonotic TB: the bigger picture

000acull 005-cre.jpg

A minor but nonetheless important parliamentary event took place yesterday, with the opposition day debate on the badger cull, against the motion that, "this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead".

Fronted by Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield and shadow secretary of state of the environment, she opened with the question: "is culling badgers the most effective way to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis?" 

This is the classic straw man ploy, setting up a false premise in order to knock it down. No one with any sense will actually argue that a cull will stop the spread of what I prefer to call zoonotic TB – the bacterial strain has long adapted to multiple hosts and can no longer be considered a bovine pathogen. 

To any sensible person, the cull is simply one tool in a complex "toolbox" of measures available to control the disease, which in the UK is largely out of control, spreading geographically and affecting increasing numbers of animals. 

Thus, it would have been far more appropriate to address the issue of whether, in the context of the disease having established itself in the wild fauna, zoonotic TB in domestic cattle had ever been successfully eliminated without first dealing with the wildlife reservoir. 

And it is here, as in many other things, we can benefit from taking a broader view of the situation, looking beyond our borders, and seeing what is happing elsewhere. And, if we do, we find that the UK is by no means alone in suffering from the upsurge in zoonotic TB. 

For instance, in the Bieszczady region in the southeast of Poland, not far from the Ukraine border, there has been a major outbreak in wild bison (below). 


Significantly, the local veterinary authorities carried out investigations of other wild animals and, in mid-April discovered infection in wild boars – to which badgers are closely related. As recently as May, tuberculosis had been confirmed in three pigs that had died in the Bieszczady forest, in the same area where previously tuberculosis had been found in bison. 

This broader view, therefore, underlines the relationship between the disease in ruminants and other fauna, a relationship so well established in veterinary circles that, when Mexico domestic cattle were found to be infected with zoonotic TB, the authorities immediately undertook surveillance of wild ruminants in what was called the "wildlife-livestock interface". White-tailed deer, North American elk and red deer were “harvested” via controlled hunting. 

The relevance of the "wildlife-livestock interface" is further emphasised by official Italian veterinary advice, which lists the different "risk factors" in production systems, including as a major factor in the spread of TB, "poor surveillance systems and control of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife". 

Thus, in a major outbreak of zoonotic TB in cattle in Sovona in 2007 – a region which was a long history of TB outbreaks, much emphasis was placed on controlling the wild boar population, which were implicated in the spread of the disease. Wildlife management was thought essential before there could be a return to what was termed "normal care". 

In Spain, it has long been recognised that high densities of wildlife, mainly Eurasian wild boar and red deer have been able to maintain M. bovis in circulation, even in the absence of domestic livestock, this forming what is technically known as a self-sustaining “maintenance” reservoir. 

In 2008, a ground-breaking study of Spain's Doñana National Park proved unequivocally the link between infection in the domestic cattle, using genotyping to demonstrate the epidemiological relationship. European wild boar, red deer and the fallow deer were examined for the presence of zoonotic TB. The infection was confirmed in 52 percent of wild boar, 27 percent of red deer and 18 percent of fallow deer. 

The results obtained confirmed that wildlife species were infected with the M. bovis strains which are more prevalent in cattle, with the official report concluding that introduction of domestic animals into wildlife areas when there no guarantee of freedom of disease and without appropriate diagnostic techniques and control measures represented a risk to cattle health. Researchers suggested that identifying and culling animals with advanced bovine TB could reduce the number of super-shedders and the availability of contagious carrion. 

This builds on the work from the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), which reports that 22 percent of countries with TB infection have detected bovine tuberculosis in wildlife (deer, elk, wild boar, feral goat, buffalo, possum, ferret, mink, hedgehog, lion, cheetah, kudu, baboon, and seal) in the last 10 years. Where wild species become "maintenance host" for M. bovis, they can be responsible for continuing outbreaks even when infection is eliminated from domestic cattle. 

The best-known examples of this dynamic are cited by the OIE as the European badger (Meles meles) in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) in New Zealand, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Michigan, which has served as the presumptive source of infection for cattle herds and carnivores, and the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) in Africa, which has spread the infection to predators. 

Thus, when a very recent TB outbreak was observed in Bavarian cattle, investigation of deer and roe deer in the Upper Allgäu were carried out and infection of the same type was found, with a prevalence of 18.2 percent. As a result, 1,614 red deer have been shot by the deer hunting community. Similarly, recent outbreak in Swiss cattle, in the Cantons of Fribourg, Vaud and Valais – the first cases for 50 years – deer have been examined for potential infection. 

A reminder of the zoonotic character of the disease, incidentally, comes from the latest outbreak in Germany where, on a farm in the district of Rotenburg, a farmer has succumbed to the disease. In this country, the owner of a flock of alpacas which was found to be infected, is currently being treated for a serious case of the infection, and may need an operation to remove one of her lungs. 

There has also been a recent outbreak of zoonotic TB in Belgium, which has been free from the disease since 2003 – the disease having been discovered in a slaughterhouse in Holland. Investigations are currently being carried out, but it is significant that the affected cattle are from a beef herd which does not have contact with other cattle. 

From the UK's perspective, some of the more significant outbreaks have been in France, where the increase is regarded as "worrying" by the authorities. There, we note, in some prefectures, badgers have been associated with the spread of disease and the Ministry of Agriculture is seeking destruction of badger setts when they are classified as harmful. 

In France, currently, a policy of whole-herd slaughter is practised, but there is also no reticence about culling wildlife. In February 2012, M. bovis infection was detected in wild boar in a game park in Marne department, previously a bovine tuberculosis-free area. In order to prevent spillover, all the game present in the park was slaughtered, including 280 wild boars, where the prevalence of infection was determined at 7.3 percent. 

000aardennes 005-bad.jpg

At the end of May this year, after three cases of bovine tuberculosis were diagnosed in less than a year in herds Semide, Contreuve and Sugny, resulting in the slaughter of about 200 cattle, two badgers carrying bovine tuberculosis were found, close to the areas where the cattle infection had occurred.


 The local hunts were involved (pictured above) by the prefecture in the Ardennes, through the formal system of "lieutenants de louveterie" and in the first days of this month, systematic trapping and analysis of badgers was conducted, with 60 badgers taken. Four have been found to be infected.

Control measures are ongoing, and one notes that while the media here lauds a former pop-star guitarist, who believes M. bovis to be a virus rather than a bacterium, Pascal Mailhos, prefect of Burgundy and Côte-d'Or, recently awarded medals to officials actually dealing with TB in the front line, including Jean-Luc Loizon, the local Lieutenant louveterie. This is an interesting reflection of relative national priorities. 

000acull 005-pat1.jpg

But, as he went into bat for the government's plans, no one was more conscious of this "bigger picture" than Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson. One of the most eurosceptic ministers in the Cabinet, he regularly outflanks his own officials at EU council meetings by being able to speak with his French and German counterparts, whose languages he speaks fluently.

And thus, while Mary Creagh flounders around as the perpetual "little Englander", Paterson is in touch with the European and global scene, using data from all over the world to strengthen the case for dealing with the wildlife reservoir over here.

Fortunately, the "bigger picture" prevailed and the motion was defeated by a handsome majority. Owen Paterson lives to fight another day.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Vive la France!

We mentioned in this posting the emergence of bovine zoonotic tuberculosis in the Ardennes region of France. More is emerging on the response of the French authorities to this threat. If you remember, they had already confirmed disease in two badgers, and were about to trap and examine a further 80. They don't hang about in France.

The deed is done, with more infected badgers found. Here is a quick auto-translation from the first link:
Attention only animals collected on risk areas and therefore the corresponding analyzes are supported financially by the state, through this monitoring on national wildlife called 'SYYLVATUB.'
To date, 24 badgers have already been taken, mainly in the sector and Semide Contreuve. Early results showed five negative cases, but a badger gave a positive result (the latter was trapped in the town of Mont-Saint Martin - our edition of May 18)
The discovery of this infected with bovine TB badger, has the effect of changing the main device, which now calls for:
• the continued trapping and systematic analysis of a sample of 60 Badgers (4 x 15 badgers) around four homes cattle in 2012 and 2013;
• trapping intensified and systematic analysis of badgers captured in a one-kilometer radius around the infected badger burrow;
• trapping and systematic analysis of a sample of 15-20 badgers in the periphery (one to two kilometers) of the aforementioned area.
A hunter is concerned at the large number of badgers to take, but do not balk at the task.
And another auto-translate from the second link:
"We conducted analyzes of sixty badgers trapped around the four foci of tuberculosis identified. We have twenty returns including analysis was positive. "The regulatory framework indicates that at least one infected for the department going in the red zone animal," says Pierre N'Gahane, the prefect of the Ardennes.
Evaluation of the rate of infection:
* As a precautionary measure to monitor more regularly wildlife, the representative of the State has already asked the Directorate General of Food Ministry in charge of Agriculture (EB) transition in level 3 Sylvatub the plane.
* A meeting of the monitoring unit will be held Tuesday, June 4 to discuss the evolution of the health situation in the department and the implementation of measures already experienced in the Marne and the two French departments most affected by this disease, Côte-d'Or and the Dordogne

 In France, la chasse (the hunt) are seconded to collect suspect blaireaux (badgers) and deliver to the appropriate authorities for sampling.

This article explains and they kindly send us pics as well. They don't hang about in France, do they?

 It's good to see that at least someone takes zoonotic tuberculosis seriously.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

June 1st - A Wish list

As a few high profile but vociferous opponents of the control of tuberculosis prepare to descend on London today (are there any badgers in the Metropolis?) we have prepared a 'Wish list' to summarize the current stupidity policies surrounding this disease.

Why a start and finish date for controlling a fatal zoonotic Grade 3 pathogen? M. bovis, the bacteria which causes tuberculosis in mammals works 24/7 and not to a bureaucrat's time clock. Lord Krebs pointed this out in his policy document of 1996. So our first wish is for a long term management strategy for any wild hosts of b. tuberculosis.

Secondly, we would propose a cull of Defra's statistical computer weasels so that the full extent of other species overspill of this deadly disease is visible to the general public.

For sure, the risk to human beings from their pets is now being mentioned.

But the evidence base to back this up is still firmly glued to the counting of the single microbial sample which confirms 'bovine' tuberculosis only.
Other victims - and there are thousands - have disappeared

 When the results of dubious data collection are fed into a mathematical model, (or even Brian May's astrophysical calculator ) perhaps it would be a good idea to check the source of that data. So our third wish is for less 'rough assumptions', vague estimates or downright lies which subsequently become hard facts. With Defra's ability to tweak boundaries and the Badger Trust's failing calculator batteries, the cynical amongst us may believe that this dumbing down of our senseless sentinel cattle slaughter is a deliberate ploy to keep the gravy train this disease has created, on its rails.

 And while we're on the subject of dodgy data, our fourth wish is for the John Bourne's comments describing the conception of 'his' 8 year prevarication trial on how to disperse infectious badgers, be quoted in full, and not castrated to fit his political steer. If you remember, in his evidence to the EFRA committee, he proudly announced not that culling badgers to control tuberculosis would not work, but:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."
And the method of culling Bourne chose to satisfy his political steerage? Cage trapping for 8 nights only, once a year if you were lucky, with time out for FMD in 2001 / 2002 and open access for the badgerists to remove or destroy 69 per cent of the traps set up to October 2003. Some policy. Some 'trial'. Some data.

But it from this crazy skyscraper of 'facts' that the present pilot cull - and its vociferous opposition - has sprung.

 Meanwhile, the columns of the press, TV interviews and the Twits are full of very wild assumptions made by many 'experts' who know nothing either of this disease, its progress through mammals or its control in other countries. As Derek Mead says in his Western Morning News column this week:
"People who you wouldn't expect to know the first thing about bovine TB, bio-security, gamma interferon testing and the personal habits of badgers have been occupying platforms and writing letters to the newspapers, all with an immense air of authority..."
This while the men and women on the phone lines at Farm Crisis Network are trying to calm the fears of the farmers who have had whole herds of cattle, sheep, pigs and alpacas slaughtered, and are then faced with turning out any replacements or the survivors of a what can be lifetime's work, onto the killing fields again.

The wildlife responsible for this carnage continue to enjoy free range, defended by the totally ignorant or the wilfully misled.

So our final wish is for Defra to target Tuberculosis wherever that may lurk. Defra takes a lead in its non-eradication of tuberculosis in cattle and bison from DG SANCO in the European Union, which in turn follows the Office Internationale des Epizooties guidelines on TB eradication. But to ignore, deflect or dumb down a continuing threat from an acknowledged and established wildlife host, is not just expensive, it is just plain reckless, as DG SANCO so forcefully said in their latest blast paper describing the lack of progress made in Great Britain.
"It is however of utmost importance that there is a political consensus and commitment to long-term strategies to combat TB in badgers as well as in cattle. The Welsh eradication plan will lose some impetus as badger culling will now be replaced with badger vaccination. This was not part of the original strategy that consisted of a comprehensive plan that has now been disrupted.
There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.
UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections.

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."
There is nothing we could add to that.

The target for the eradication of Tuberculosis should not just be a sentinel cow's head. That is the easy option, but solves nothing if the cause of her 'reaction' is left to reinfect any other passing mammal. Tuberculosis is a slow burn disease in human beings. It has a long term incubation, even with a BCG jab. And passing the buck to a hard pressed NHS is not an option. 

We leave you with a picture of a badger with tuberculous pleurisy - one such that May's groupies, marching today, want to preserve, protect or vaccinate.
Did it suffer?
It was completely emaciated: suffocating  with its lungs full of fluid  and abscesses, and highly infectious with every breath it was able to take.

On its 'suffering' - we'll leave you to judge.