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Animal Health uses latest advances in tuberculosis testing 10 July 2007

The Animal Health Division has successfully implemented a new blood test for tuberculosis (TB); clearing a recently affected farm of TB while simultaneously saving most of the milking cows. In the past, herds with five or more cows affected have faced the distinct probability of a total herd removal in order to stop the advance of disease (once the disease is established in a herd some animals can continue to spread disease without testing positive).

Crucially the new gamma interferon test allows both: ? the earlier detection of infected animals ? detection of some infected animals that do not react to the usual skin test As a result of the new test about 80 cows were saved from slaughter and the herd was swiftly returned to TB accredited status.

The new test requires a high degree of organisation and co-operation between farmer, government veterinary officer, and outside agencies. Blood samples have to be taken quickly, placed in a temperature controlled environment (purpose built heated box) and sent by courier to the UK to arrive within 24 hours of sampling. Testing space has to be booked in advance and the cells in the blood must be alive at the laboratory for the test to work.

The new test is not freely available in the UK, yet the Department has successfully negotiated a contract sufficient for the Island’s needs. In addition to the use of the test in herds with significant TB problems, it is further intended to roll out the test for imported animals in order to increase the level of protection for the Island’s cattle population from TB.

Other advances in genetic testing have permitted the Animal Health Division to specifically identify the bacteria isolated from each of the Island’s outbreaks (12 since 2000) and determine whether they may be related. These investigations, together with movement analyses, have shown that many of the outbreaks are unrelated and are likely to have been the result of importation. Animal Health is also undertaking further research, with the assistance of local veterinary practices, into the possibility that wild/feral animals may be involved in transmitting some of the cases of bovine tuberculosis between farms.

The Minister said: “it is essential that we maintain a high degree of vigilance against the very real threat of TB. Anyone with an interest in the industry cannot fail to have noticed the problems encountered in other jurisdictions, with farmers facing financial ruin in heavily affected areas. We are very fortunate in having a low incidence of TB and I look forward to its further reduction with the use of these state of the art scientific tools. It is very pleasing to see our industry; local veterinary practices and the Animal Health Division all driving forward a modern advanced control programme.”

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