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Study proves link between badgers and bovine TB

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 30, 2012

The Government's proposed pilot badger cull has received criticism from animal rights campaigners  Picture: Jason Venus

The Government's proposed pilot badger cull has received criticism from animal rights campaigners Picture: Jason Venus

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A study of bacterial DNA has provided the first clear evidence that tuberculosis can spread between cattle and badgers.

Scientists mapped the genetic blueprints of bacteria isolated from 26 cows and four badgers during outbreaks of bovine TB in Northern Ireland.

The analysis traced changes in the bacteria's DNA as it passed from animal to animal. It revealed that bacteria taken from badgers and cows were closely related at the farm level – strains obtained from badgers and nearby cattle farms were often indistinguishable.

The findings, published in the Public Library of Science Pathogens, shed no light on the direction of transmission – whether from badgers to cows or cows to badgers.

Lead scientist Professor Rowland Kao, from the University of Glasgow, said: "Only with a larger study might we be able to quantify the extent and direction of transmission between cattle and badgers and reliably inform disease control policies."

Bacteria from within single outbreaks were usually closely related, the study showed. But different herd outbreaks were usually characterised by genetically distinct groups of bacteria.

Controversial Government plans for a mass badger cull in England to curb the spread of bovine TB have been postponed until next summer following widespread protests.

Opponents, including the RSPCA and Queen guitarist Brian May, argue that a cull would be ineffective and inhumane.

The Government's case is that the vaccine alternative is only 50-60% effective.

A nine-year trial showed that culling could slow the spread of the disease, but only if more than 70% of badgers in an area were eradicated.

A Defra spokesman said: "This research adds to existing scientific evidence that bTB is transmitted between cattle and badgers.

"No country in the world has successfully got to grips with the spread of this disease without tackling it in the wildlife population.

"That is why the Government remains fully committed to culling badgers in two pilot areas."

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 30 2012, 11:15PM

    "Re the above report....what you have to remember is that the area we are dealing with is vast compared to the close proximity of badgers and farmed animals in the South West. Even the Woodchester trials were more concentrated than the ones in Ireland. The total number of badgers in Ireland is only something like 30k in comparison with England and Wales which are in excess of 500k."

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 30 2012, 10:18PM

    @eyeopener. It is just as well then that there is a new scientific study just starting which concentrates purely on badgers and the part they play in the transmission of bTB. These studies are independent of any political party. They are being held in the UK so there won't be any excuses for different climate, topography or anything else for people to disbelieve the results. The study is a three year one.

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  • eyeopener  |  November 30 2012, 9:34PM

    Compare: Journalist "Study proves link between badgers and bovine TB" On the front page of the Western Daily Press (yes ahead of Levenson Report, and the economy) it said "Case for cull proved." AND "Lead scientist Professor Rowland Kao, from the University of Glasgow, said: "Only with a larger study might we be able to quantify the extent and direction of transmission between cattle and badgers and reliably inform disease control policies." In other words the sample used was to small to extrapolate and "reliably inform disease control policies." The Western Daily Press are running a campaign to support the cull but onlike other titles are not saying so. Every other day we have an article often with the most paltry basis to make the case for the cull. A cycnic might imagine that they don't believe that thier own readers bother to read the comments and therefore are only likely to see one view - the view they wish to present. They hope with a drip, drip of articles to mould public opinion. I once spoke to a journalist on the Sunday Times at Wapping, who spoke of his compatriots from The Sun who worked in the same building; commenting that they spoke down to their readers in the hope of connecting, not realising that their readers were ahead of them!

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  • Charlespk  |  November 30 2012, 5:32PM

    @AtrixMan Friday, November 30 2012, 4:22PM The short answer 'NO'. . There are not large numbers of badgers that have not been infected with TB. There may be many who will never develop full blown disease, just as with all species. . Why do you badgerists believe badgers are the only animal that that shouldn't be culled to stop the disease spreading. PROGRESSION OF INFECTION IN BADGERS. 2. Once a badger develops disease all the members of that social group are likely to become infected due to the confined living space in their underground tunnel systems, their highly gregarious nature and constant mutual grooming. But that seed of infection (the primary focus ) will usually only progress to produce disease and eventually death in a minority of cases. Latency is a feature of TB in many species and this is so in badgers and cattle. The bulk of infections in badgers, usually 70% or more will become latent or dormant. A small number of badgers may resolve the infection completely and self cure. But the latent infections remain fully viable and may breakdown under stress which may be of nutritional origin, intercurrent disease, senile deterioration or social disturbance and disruption. Some badgers may develop fulminating disease (Gallagher et al 1998). Badgers with terminal generalised tuberculosis can excrete vast numbers of bacteria particularly when the kidneys are infected. Counts of several million bacteria in a full urination have been recorded (Gallagher and Clifton-Hadley, 2000). When infection is acquired by a bite wound from the contaminated mouth of another badger, the bacteria are Inoculated either deeply subcutaneously or intramuscularly and rapid generalisation of infection usually occurs, causing progression to severe and often fatal tuberculosis which may develop in a matter of several months (Gallagher and Nelson, 1979). Respiratory origin infections have a longer duration and cases in an endemically infected population (Woodchester) have been monitored showing intermittent excretion of infection for a year, with the longest recorded case excreting for almost three years before death. The above ground mortality due to TB is estimated as about 2% of the population per annum. Thus in the South West alone with its now extensive endemically infected areas the annual deaths due to TB will be of the order of at least 1000 to 2000.

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  • eyeopener  |  November 30 2012, 4:45PM

    As NDJMILLER pithily put it, in the same article in "THIS IS SOMERERSET" "With all due respect it can be proved that having sexual intercourse with someone who has AIDS can result in you contracting the disease. That doesn't mean killing them is the only available option to stop the spread of infection."

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  • AtrixMan  |  November 30 2012, 4:22PM

    Charlespk, You miss the point. Can we just use something which we know will rid farms of TB without Killing large numbers of healthy badgers. Rather than waiting for science to catch up with reality.

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  • Notrik  |  November 30 2012, 4:16PM

    Has there ever been any dispute that TB can pass between badgers and cattle? The question is which way is the predominate flow? Given that in any field where badgers and cattle coexist, far more bovine fluids are spread about than mustelibne ones, I would think the main flow is downwards from the cattle, not the other way.

  • Charlespk  |  November 30 2012, 2:48PM

    @AtrixMan Friday, November 30 2012, 1:01PM That's not likely to happen. The only way you can distinguish is at Post Mortem. There are farm more pressing investigations needed for human well being any way.

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  • Charlespk  |  November 30 2012, 2:42PM

    An aside. . TOTAL HYPOCRISY. It came as some surprise last weekend to find that Queen musician Brian May had been leasing the stalking rights on his land. The news was broken by the Sunday Times, who found that he was receiving payments of £750 a year for the right to shoot deer on his Middlemarsh estate. Many other papers picked up on this story because of its significance since Dr May has become a figurehead of the animal rights movement. This is more than just irony. Brian May is the self styled saviour of animals. Not a TV, radio or newspaper interview is complete without the obligatory comment from him "standing up" for the animals. He has vehemently opposed any form of culling, but was most vocal in the recent case of the proposed badger cull. The fact that a millionaire rock star raised his own dwindling profile at the expense of dairy farmers on the brink of collapse and bankruptcy is hard enough to accept.. The fact that he did this having profited from a deer cull on his own land is indefensible. Dr May stood shoulder to shoulder with the RSPCA and other animal rights groups to oppose the badger cull at all costs, including boycotting milk from already pressed farmers. As I reported last week, he also endorsed the policy that would make public the names of all those involved in culling, regardless of the consequences. In a cruel twist of poetic justice, May has been the one whose name was made public for allowing shooting to take place on his land. Now the tables have been turned, Brain May appears to prefer secrecy about what happens on his own land. The word hypocrite hardly does justice to the level of duplicity displayed, but at least he must start to comprehend how the affected farmers feel. Barney White-Spunner Executive Chairman Countryside Alliance

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  • Charlespk  |  November 30 2012, 2:30PM

    And here it is again down at the bottom. Culling badgers WILL reduce the bTB burden and threat to all other mammals iin the countryside. The European Commission has warned UK Governments they need to show greater long-term commitment to tackling the problem of bovine TB (bTB) in wildlife. In a report the Commission insists there is 'no scientific evidence' badger vaccination will work, compared with the 'considerable evidence' badger removal will improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle. Brussels officials warn the Welsh TB eradication plan has been 'disrupted' and will 'lose impetus' as a result of the decision taken this year to opt for vaccination over culling. It called on UK politicians to 'commit to a long-term strategy' that transcends party politics and fear of what voters might think. The European Commission co-funds TB eradication policies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the tune of €32 million a year. Earlier this year, it sent a delegation over to the UK to ensure the money is being spent effectively and should continue to be paid. We are already culling reactor cattle. . The problem only returned when we stopped culling badgers and closing infected setts. http://tinyurl.com/d9ohdc5 (open in a new window)

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