Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Marmite' anyone?

Just occasionally - well more than that, if we're honest - we feel we inhabit a different world from some high profile 'naturalists'. For them reality and Beatrix Potter collide, particularly when it comes to badgers.

 Last week, the Telegraph - [link] carried a piece on animal tracking described by Simon King. In extracts from his new book, the general public are encouraged to go out and seek signs of badgery behaviour.
Mr. King informs his readers that:

Badgers leave a characteristic footprint that has a “square” overall shape. On harder ground, they may leave nothing more than a few claw marks but even these, with their even spacing and fairly parallel alignment, are distinctive. In addition to individual prints, badgers create well-worn tracks or paths around their territory.
And then he goes on to tell his readers about this animal's ablutions, and in particular,  its toilet training:
Badgers are almost unique among European wild mammals in their habit of digging pits into which they deposit their dung. Because several animals from a badger clan use the dung pits communally, you frequently find several different textures and colours of fresh dung in the same shallow pit. The animals also have scent glands which they use to mark the ground (and each other).
Now not to put too fine a point on it, these piles of badgery droppings, parked conveniently in their shallow latrines, along with urine and scent marks, have proved useful to many scientists - [link] in tracking a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, known as mycobacterium bovis.

This bacterium ( the subject of this blog) is the cause of a lethal, slow burn disease called Tuberculosis.


And being a zoonosis, humans and indeed any mammal can contract it, particularly if they are in the habit of sniffing faeces or other material containing it. Such is the influence of this detritus on the cattle skin test, that cattle farmers are beaten over the head with bio security advice to fence off such latrines, this to prevent cattle coming into contact with them. To approach one and sniff, is all too often the equivalent of a bovine death warrant.

For human beings, handling anything near these latrines requires the wearing of protective clothing, masks and gloves. And testing such material requires that the laboratory concerned has Grade 4 clearance - [link] and bio security extending to years of screening tests, for its workers.

Mr. King however, thinks that this product, excreted by one of the most lethal weapons of cattle destruction on the planet, is rather nice. He explains that the smell of a latrine contents:
".. is easily detected by the human nose and is reminiscent of Marmite. I rather like it, but, like Marmite, it’s not to everyone’s taste."
After that description, if you've still got the stomach for it, there's more here - [link] including a picture of the charming interviewer, Boudicca Fox-Leonard, sniffing a chunk of otter poo.

 This man's advice should come with more than one health warning.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

End of the Summer term.

It seems that around July and August every year, a raft of papers are produced, their authors gad off with buckets and spades, the BBC media very excited,  and Defra line up more cattle for the chop.

This year is no exception, with our old friend Ellen Prook-Bollocks Brooks-Pollock - link gearing up her computer to examine risk factors for TB transmission. A radio broadcast by the BBC last month, quoted her co author Prof. Matt Keeling of Warwick University who explained:
" New research suggests that the spread of TB in cattle can only be controlled if more radical measures are adopted. Culling of entire herds, more testing and cattle vaccination are needed to reverse the spread of the disease. The lead researcher told BBC News that the study also confirms research that shows culling badgers will at best slightly slow down rather than stop the epidemic. The results have been published in the journal Nature. Even if you could cull large numbers of badgers it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on the number of TB cases in cattle."
Prof Keeling's paper was published in Nature, and cited whole herd slaughter, an option rarely undertaken - link in the UK where a wildlife reservoir remains to infect.

 Defra Minister George Eustice, MP commented on the report:
"What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country."
This view was echoed by the department's chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Boyd. He said that whole herd culling "would probably result in a rapid decline in the cattle industry in areas where TB occurs".

Prof Keeling and his co-author, Ellen Brooks-Pollock from Cambridge University, said that Mr Eustice and Prof Boyd had misunderstood the point of the study.
 In a joint statement they said: "Whole herd culling was investigated as one extreme but was never put forward as a viable policy option." 

Err, right. I think we understand that. If all the cattle are dead, there's nothing to test, and thus no TB reactors? Is that about right? Forget the infected badgers, now upspilling a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen into alpacas, sheep, goats, cats, dogs and in some cases, their owners - link

But we think this quote from Professor Keeling, is a classic:
The model was not able to specifically look at the impact of culling badgers, because there is not enough information about their location, infection and movement.

However, the team included an all-encompassing factor to represent infection from environmental effects which includes wildlife.

"Even if you could cull humanely and effectively large numbers of badgers, it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on controlling the number of TB cases in cattle,"
Do you understand that? First Prof Keeling says their model cannot look specifically at the impact of culling badgers, and then promptly and in the same sentence, reaches a negative conclusion for so doing?

Only a scientist with an electronic abacus towing a hefty research grant, could come to such a conclusion.



How much better to look back at the effect - link brutal cattle measures, slaughter and movement restrictions had in the past. Zilch. Just shed loads of cash wasted.
And a heap of dead cattle.







The second paper was published in the Ecologist, but widely reported. It tracked badgers with radio collars, and the conclusion was that they do not kiss cattle.
This is a repeat of 'research' - link done over a decade ago, but still the gravy train rolls on.

An extract from the Telegraph - link to the latest Ecologist paper explains that transmission must therefore be 'environmental'.
Well, yes. As an infected badger can produce up to 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) of m.bovis, the bacteria which may cause zTuberculosis, in just 1ml of infected urine, that is no doubt 'possible'. (That's scientific speke for - it happens)

Add to that their charming habit of scent marking territory, including our cattle feed and grazing ground, as well as general incontinence, dribbling up to 30ml of the stuff around our farms, and yes, we have a problem. And that's from only one end. Sputum from lung lesions and pus from suppurating bite wound abscesses add to that 'environmental' burden. As does the fright / flight spitting and spraying this animal indulges in - when not anesthetized to be fitted with a GPS collar..

And other research on record - much more useful in this case, confirms that just 1cfu is enough to infect a calf, and 70 cfu an adult bovine. More on that in this post - link

But there is now more on that 'environmental' burden involving the the lowly earthworm - link
A group of scientists, plastered Lumbricus terrestris (that's a fancy name for an earthworm) with cattle faeces spiked with the M. bovis BCG strain Pasteur to carry out two separate experiments. They explain;
 The dissemination, the gut carriage and the excretion of M. bovis were all monitored using a specific qPCR-based assay. 
Leaving aside the screening was using qPCR, which Defra insist will not work to identify m.bovis, the bacterium was found to be  carried through into soil for up to four days.

Now, here's thought. TB bacteria is rarely, if ever, found in cattle faeces. Any lesions are usually safely walled up in lymph nodes. But that paragraph and link in our post above details the amount of the euphemistically named 'environmental' burden heaped into grassland by infected badger detritus.

 And what are badgers preferred food? Our old friend, Lumbricus terrestris.
Or earthworms to you and me.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wales - FUW reports a 37 per cent increase in TB in one year.

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) have issued a press release, urging the new Welsh Government to work with the farming industry to address the issue of TB in wildlife.

 Speaking during the FUW’s Annual General Meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts told members that an average of 36 cattle were culled every working day due to TB, representing an increase of 37 percent on the previous 12 month period, and an eight hundred percent rise since 1996.
“The pattern in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area, where millions have been spent on vaccinating badgers over the past four years, is no different”,Glyn Roberts told those present, referring to the latest scientific report into the impact of badger vaccination in the area, which found there was no improvement in TB rates in the area despite more than £3.7 million having been spent on vaccinating 5,192 badgers in the area since 2011.

We therefore look to this new government to finally grasp the nettle, and accept the basic facts which our Chief Vet has made clear to successive governments,” he said.
Glyn Roberts also highlighted the experience of other countries where cattle TB controls, which are less stringent than those applied in Wales, quickly eradicate the disease and restore TB-free status, citing the example of Germany. The badger population here is proactively managed, and numbers are reduced by around 65,000 a year.
“Their badger population [in Germany] is not endangered by any stretch of the imagination - and nor is it infected with TB.”
Glyn Roberts said such patterns are repeated around the world, and that scientific evidence gathered from across the EU and the globe showed that TB cannot be eradicated while the epidemic in wildlife is ignored.
“This truth, and the distressing figures in terms of the numbers of cattle being culled every day, is something we will be highlighting over the coming months, and we hope Welsh Government and those from across the political spectrum will work with us in helping educate the public about the severity of the situation, just as we have done in the past,” he added.


Pictured: (L-R) Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Professor Christianne Glossop, FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas, Environment and Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths and FUW President Glyn Roberts

Saturday, June 04, 2016

A (nother) new test for TB

Making the headlines this week, is another new screening test - [link] for zTB. This is a blood test, with results available in 6 hours, and aims to find TB bacteria circulating in blood, ahead of any lesions forming.


The test has been developed by a team at The University of Nottingham led by Dr Cath Rees, an expert in microbiology in the School of Biosciences and Dr Ben Swift from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The researchers have used this new method to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - which causes this bTB - in their blood. The research: ‘Evidence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteraemia in intradermal skin test positive cattle detected using phage-RPA' has been published online in the peer reviewed medical journal Virulence = [link]

The full paper is behind a paywall. More information is available from the authors.
Contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

 In her introduction Dr Rees explains: “This test delivers results within 48 hours and the frequency in which viable mycobacteria were detected in the blood of skin test positive animals, changes the paradigm of this disease."
This new, simple and inexpensive blood test detects very low levels of mycobacteria in blood using a bacteriophage-based technique developed by The University of Nottingham. The group has patented an improved version of the method that delivers results in just six hours. More recently ‘proof of principal’ experiments have shown that this is even more sensitive. This is currently licenced to a spin out company, PBD Biotech Ltd.
This test uses amplified DNA, and is explained by the authors thus:
Bacteriophage amplification technology was developed 20 years ago as a method to rapidly detect and enumerate slow growing pathogenic mycobacteria. In addition it can be used as a tool to rapidly detect antibiotic resistance and to investigate mycobacterial dormancy. The assay detects the growth of broad host range mycobacteriophage, capable of infecting a wide range of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic mycobacteria.
Any diagnostic test with a decent pedigree, is welcome, and having heard the guff circulating about the sensitivity of the internationally used skin test, many will latch on to these discoveries like the Holy Grail.
But tests such as this for cattle, would still be supplementary to the primary skin test. Just like Gamma ifn - [link] and Enferplex - [link] and even qPCR - [link]

But only a scientist on a mission could come up with the following two statements - and keep a straight face:
"Routine testing for Bovine TB uses the Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin (SICCT) skin test for M. bovis infection and all healthy cattle are regularly tested this way. However, it is known that this test is only 90 per cent sensitive at best and misses many infected animals."
and then in describing the test results:
"The data we are getting has taken the scientific community by surprise. In our paper we show that when blood samples from (45) skin test negative cattle were tested for M. bovis cells, all the samples proved negative."
Priceless.

Dr Rees then explains that the test showed:
"viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteria (MTC) were detected in 66 per cent of samples (27/41) from skin test positive animals."
So this test agreed 100 per cent with the 45 skin test negative animals and 'found' 66 per cent of the skin test positives? We're trying to get our collective heads around that one, but suggest the remaining skin test positives would be NVL at post mortem. That is, both the skin test and this blood screen, had, in some cattle, picked up mycobacterium bovis circulating ahead of lesions. Dr. Rees explains:
“More excitingly, using our new more sensitive six-hour method, this figure is even higher - all animals with visible lesions were MTC positive, and even 26 out of 28 animals where the lesions were not yet visible also were positive suggesting that M. bovis is commonly found in the circulating blood of infected animals. Using our bacteriophage-based test the hope is that we can help improve herd control by finding animals at the early stages of infection and helping farmers control outbreaks of bTB more rapidly. ”
The Nottingham team are working with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Animal Disease Center, to set up the first animal trial using the blood test to detect M. bovis in the blood of experimentally infected animals to determine exactly how soon this test can detect infection.

Dr Rees said: “The test also offers the potential for new, better tests for other farm animals. We are directly detecting the bacteria and so the method will work using blood samples from any animal species – so far we have detected mycobacteria in the blood of cattle, sheep and horses, but it could also be used for deer, goats or llamas. Not only that, we can detect any type of mycobacteria, we have use the same method to detect other diseases, such as Johne’s disease, not just bTB.”

Why only this suggested use on 'farm animals'? What about infected Badgers? Don't mention the 'B' word.

It could be useful. Just like non invasive qPCR on badger latrines and sputum could be useful. But it won't be used, as the responsibility for eradication of this Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen then becomes Defra's, not that of a farmer with a cage or a rifle trying to jump through Natural England's increasingly  convoluted hoops.

Finding cattle exposed to mycobacterium bovis, presently screened by the Intradermal skin test, and confirmed by this method is fine. As long as continuing  upspill from wildlife is then excluded. Otherwise, as now, we will shoot the messenger in ever increasing numbers, while gaining nothing at all.

Our take is that this test correlated very snugly with the results of the skin test, on the cattle which were examined.  

The paper is available to purchase on this link - [link]
For further information, please contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

Sunday, April 24, 2016

T.O.W.I.E.

In our last posting we explored the bizarre - [link] and ridiculous release protocol for badger rescues, illustrating the post with a pic of a tattooed stripey which had expired in West Wales. Where had he come from? we asked. A member of Facebook asked the same question and this was the reply from Secret World.
Our badger rehabilitation and release policy follows the protocol agreed by wildlife charities, farming groups, specialist scientists and MAFF (now DEFRA) in 2001.

The policy followed by Secret World is the best possible, as advised by these scientists, to minimise the risk of disease transmission and ensure good animal welfare. We work extensively with private landowners to ensure they understand our policies, that any release sites are suitable and that we have their full consent for any releases. You can read more about our release process on our website.

The badger photographed was a cub released in 2011. The cub was tested three times for bovine TB, as is our policy, and was vaccinated before release.
Actually, as our Parliamentary questions showed, release protocol dreamt up by these charities, was not approved by Defra, but let that pass. That assertion was contradicted in a later paragraph from SWorld.

So where had this rescue (now dead) originated? Secret World had not answered at first, but later volunteered this gem:
"It came from the 'low risk' area of Essex. Other animals in that group originated in areas of similar risk".
So a T.O.W.I.E 'rescued' in Essex, reared and tattooed in Somerset, and released in 'someone's' orchard in West Wales? Are they short of badgers in that part of the UK? Is it TB free?
What a mind blowingly stupid idea.

The question was posed as to the geographic spread of released badgers from these centres. The answer:
"I am not in a position to discuss exact sites for releases, not least to maintain the confidentiality of those landowners who work with us.

The aim is to release badger cubs (not just from Secret World, but from all rescue centres around the country) as close to where they were found as possible. This is for both genetic reasons, as well as being good practise for disease control (not just TB)."
It's just about as far as you can get  from Essex to West Wales without getting wet feet, but let that pass.
The answer continued:
"The distribution of release sites depends on availability, but broadly mirrors the population of badgers across England and Wales. So more badgers are found and released in the south west of England than anywhere else. All adult badgers go back exactly where they are found.

Most cubs rehabilitated at Secret World are released in the south west of England. When we decide which cubs to release where, this is based on a risk assessment that includes consideration of where they came from and where they are going."
Mmmm. But 42 11 W, an Essex badger, ends up released in a TB hotspot in West Wales? Which hardly fits the described 'protocol' does it?

 Secret World - [link] is registered with the Charity Commission - [link] documents from which, show its income in 2014 as around £1.15m. Better than cattle farming then?






Now it seems pretty ironic to us, that having seen an increase - [link] in main setts of 103 per cent in England over the last few years, combined with a disease level of around 50 per cent (FERA figures) in the South West of England, (an area which is presently putting together population reduction strategies to control a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen) that such outfits as Secret World should be introducing more badgers into the area from Lord knows where.

Anyone want a badger or three? Just contact Secret World. We are sure they'll oblige. Possibly for a fee?

From their comforting blurb, for the dead badger with the tattoo 42 11 W, obviously the only way should have been Essex. But not so: he was adopted by a landowner in West Wales, and died there.

Credit: Facebook.com/BadgerCullPage

Saturday, April 09, 2016

You learn something new every day.

Long years ago when we were phrasing up Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions on zTB, most were crafted already knowing the answers. We just wanted the rest of you to know too.

But this week, we have learned that on one subject we did not probe far enough.

 And that subject is the translocation, following the rescue - [link] and release of badgers.

So as this week saw the further ratcheting down on cattle and extra testing, we must update our readers on that omission.

 In February 2004, Mr. Paterson asked this question and received the following answer:
6 Feb 2004 : Column 1109W
Mr. Paterson:" To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the sensitivity of the test used on translocated badgers is in (a)positive response and (b)negative response. [150583]

Mr. Bradshaw: The test, which is generally used, for the detection of TB in translocated badgers is a test for antibodies (the Brock Test). This is generally accepted to have a low sensitivity (the ability to detect diseased animals). However it is difficult to give accurate values for the sensitivity because euthanased animals are not always subject to laboratory culture.

Where a badger translocation is carried out under licence (from Defra or English Nature) each individual badger is tested three times. If any of the three results are positive, the badger is euthanased. Any other badger that has been in contact with the positive testing badger is also euthanased, regardless of the results of its own tests

Where an orphaned or previously injured badger is translocated by an animal centre or similar body they follow a voluntary code of practise (drawn up by the RSPCA, National Federation of Badgers Groups and Secret World Wildlife Rescue).

Any animal to be relocated is tested three times and, if it tests positive, is euthanased.

This protocol does not advise in the destruction of badgers who have had contact with a test positive badger.

It should be emphasised that this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra. "
But that is only half the story, as TB Information - [link] has discovered. On the site there is a link to a document drawn up to facilitate the release of rescued badgers.

And from that little gem, we note that the guff contained in the answer to PQ 150583, (above) does not apply to ADULT badgers. They are not tested as to do so would mean a long period of captivity to accommodate the 3 tests plus weeks in between. And that would never do.TB Information also reports:
About 70 badgers each year were reported in 2007 to be released by the wildlife rescue centre called Secret World.

 In 2003 a voluntary Badger Rehabilitation Protocol was drawn up by Secret World Wildlife Rescue National Federation of Badger Groups and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Although it recommends testing badger cubs, it says the following regarding the testing of adult badgers.

* An adult badger should not be blood tested for bovine TB for the following reasons:

* It will be released to its original location, so eliminating the opportunity for the spread of disease to new areas;

* Recent published data show that a single blood test is unreliable (Forrester et al., 2001);

* It is unlikely to be held in captivity long enough to conduct three blood tests.
Marvellous isn't it? Cattle nailed to the floor, tested to extinction and the major UK wildlife reservoir of disease is rescued and released, translocated and fostered, 'accustomed to life in the wild', using, if it's used at all, a test with sensitivity of around 47 per cent.



We're grateful to a member of The Farmers forum - [link] for the above screen shot of a badger found dead in Wales.
(Credit : TFF and Facebook)






As you can see it's sporting a handsome tattoo - 42 11 W - so from where did it originate, to end up squished on a  roadside in West Wales? And why is this crazy situation still going on at all?


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

New TB rules.

Today, April 6th, Defra finally managed to 'zone' England into the dirty areas and clean for TB status.

This zoning has nothing to do with how you farm or the health status of your cattle. It is dependent on where you happen to keep your cattle. And in particular, the relation of that location to endemically infected wildlife.
Farmers Guardian - [link] has the details.