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Farming Matters: Abi Reader - 'We are waiting for a message of hope about bTB'

Bovine TB is very close to home for me right down with my own herd currently being under restriction, writes Abi Reader.

I attended the Aberystwyth TB Conference to listen to the latest research coming through.

 

This conference is the first of its kind in Wales, pulling together all those involved in fighting this disease; farmers, vets, researchers (human and animal), educational institutions and government officials.

 

My mind boggled as I listened to the variety of tests available, both validated and non-validated (seeking approval).

 

I listened to how TB survives, hides, thrives and destroys a host and how we as humans just still don’t understand enough about this disease.

 

There was lots of ’geek speak’, I heard words I will probably never be able to pronounce again, let alone spell and I envisaged white coats, test tubes, and highly powerful microscopes with some of the greatest scientific minds all fighting this disease on a front we as farmers just never see.

 

All a far cry from the green fields I returned home to later that day.

 

Some take home messages to flag or remind you of – evidence shows the skin test will only have 1/5,000 false positives.


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Where it falls down is sometimes it can’t pick up the very early stages of the disease, or the very developed stages when the cows immune system is working so hard it can deceive the test.

 

Some TB is also very good at hiding. Therefore skin tests ‘may’ only find 85 per cent of the TB in a herd, which is why we need other tests to help us find the rest.

 

No visible lesions does not mean no TB, it just means the disease hasn’t advanced enough in the host to form a lesion yet.

 

If you culture a visible lesion there is more than 69 per cent chance it will be TB (as opposed to something else like pneumonia, for example).

 

If there is no lesion to culture there is only a 2 per cent chance of finding TB, but that is largely because the disease can hide well in the body.

 

Did you know that human TB is in the top 10 biggest killers in the world, and despite being a developed nation that doesn’t have a major human TB issue, we are totally unique that we have the worst bovine TB in the EU so we are of interest to science?

 

Despite what some medical minds may say, according to the scientists at the conference the threat of bovine TB to humans contracting disease is real even if it is only a low chance.

 

Perhaps the thing that struck me most, however, were the vets. Not the vets who are doing this incredible research, or those carrying out government regulations for us; I mean the farm vets.

 

What struck me was how much anger, frustration and despair was among them.

 

They are the people who make up a valuable part of our team.

 

There were a decent number of farmers at the conference, but we were probably still a minority. But it didn’t matter, because the farm vets there held our corner.

 

Is there still a bigger role for them to play? Since mental health is currently high up the farming agenda (rightly so) perhaps when you next have a farm vet visit (regardless of what livestock you have) take the time to ask your vet how they are.

 

I was invited to give the closing remarks for this event. It was an opportunity to remind researchers stuck behind desks and in labs who they are really working for; our cows, us as farmers, our farm vets and our rural communities.

 

The best comment from a vet in the audience – we are all waiting for a message of hope.

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