A TB vaccination for cattle could be one step closer thanks to a new test which detects bacteria in blood or milk after just six hours.
Actiphage TB, which has been created by Suffolk-based start-up PBD Biotech, is a highly sensitive test which can pick up whether an animal is infected or has been vaccinated.
At the moment, it is illegal to vaccinate cattle under EU rules because older tests were unable to distinguish between a vaccinated and infected cow.
It is hoped the faster results from Actiphage TB will also allow farmers to identify affected cattle more quickly, helping to prevent the spread of the disease.
Dr Cath Rees, one of the co-founders of PBD Biotech, carried out research on TB testing at the University of Nottingham.
She said: The existing skin test is based on the animal’s immune response, and takes three days to produce a result, but more worryingly is known to miss about 20 per cent of infected animals.
“Our new test is unique as it is the only one which directly detects live bacteria in blood or milk and is fast, specific and highly sensitive.”
Although the test kits are not yet licensed for commercial use, they are available for research and validation studies.
One such trial was carried out in the West Country, where Devon vet Dick Sibley was given permission to use the kits on a dairy farm.
He tested for TB in blood, milk and faeces, and found the test was able to detect infection months before the skin test gave a positive result.
Using the skin test alone would have meant cows carrying the bacteria were labelled as healthy, potentially spreading the disease to the rest of the herd or their calves at birth.
Coupling the new test with a strict biosecurity regime has meant levels of TB on the farm have plummeted, with the first clear skin test results for five years.
Research kits will be available from the end of November 2017 from the company website: www.pbdbio.com.
For tips on how to keep your cattle safe from TB, check out our GUIDE.