A new highly sensitive and specific blood test for bovine TB, Actiphage, has been accepted for exceptional private use in England.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said the test could be used in cases where a farm has had an ongoing chronic bovine TB problem.
Actiphage is unique in directly detecting live mycobacteria in blood or milk, and it can also distinguish between a vaccinated and an infected animal - paving the way for new types of disease control when vaccines become available in the future.
Dr Berwyn Clarke, CEO of PBD Biotech, which has developed the bacteriophage-based detection method, said it provided a ‘promising’ new approach to controlling the infection.
“Actiphage is now included within a series of measures that farmers can use in conjunction with their vet and with specific APHA approval as a means to improving their disease management strategy.
“For many farms that have been struggling for years it provides the first step to becoming TB free. This move by the APHA is a really positive step towards tackling this devastating disease.”
It follows success seen by Devon vet Dick Sibley, who incorporated Actiphage into a disease management strategy last Autumn to help clear a dairy herd that had been stricken with TB since 2012.
Mr Sibley said: “The approach of directly measuring the presence of live bacteria in the blood in just six hours is a totally different but complementary measurement to other technologies and has enabled enhanced testing, early detection and containment of the infected animals.
“We do not have all of the answers yet, but it’s about predicting, preventing and managing what we can – and Actiphage has contributed greatly to the outcome we have been after for so long.”
Using the new test
Any private veterinary surgeon can request APHA permission for exceptional use of Actiphage and the other non-validated tests, subject to certain criteria which include herd supplementary interferon-γ (IFN- γ) testing, discussions with the APHA case vet and the farmer’s written consent.
Actiphage will require further testing before it is officially approved for standard veterinary use in the UK.