27 Apr 2012, 5:48 PM
In April 2012 we learnt that long time campaigners, Dianne Summers (http://www.alpacatb.com/news.html), had been diagnosed with bovine TB. This disease is usually rare in humans and this case raises many questions. Currently camelids are not subject to compulsory, routine testing (the skin test is not reliable enough) or movement restrictions. They can have lesions and not show any sign of illness. The species is relatively new to the UK and numbers continue to increase. Dianne has always been convinced that bTb is more of a problem in camelids than those concerned care to admit, with many incidents 'covered up'. Also reported in April was the slaughter of around 400 alpacas in East Sussex because of a bTB outbreak in the herd. It is understood the animals are owned by the US-based company, Alpacas of America which supplies animals internationally to the UK, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. Animals from the Sussex herd are understood to have been sold within the UK and to mainland Europe.
The following are statements are from the website http://www.alpacatb.com/news.html where there is a lot of useful information for alpaca owners.
Statement from Dianne Summers, alpaca owner, campaigner and founder of the Camelid Support and Research Group re bovine TB in alpacas and llamas.
Some of you may be aware that I have been very ill for quite some time. Recently I was confirmed as having contracted bovine TB myself; i.e. not my herd but me personally.
I took ill on Feb 15th 2012 with what I would describe severe flu. Over the next 8 days my condition deteriorated rapidly and I was admitted for emergency medical care on Feb 23rd. I was diagnosed as having a severe chest infection/pneumonia and was prescribed the usual antibiotics.
Not only did I not respond to treatment, I got worse, and on March 6th 2012 my GP sent me for a chest x ray which indicated SUSPECTED pulmonary TB. Needless to say at this point, I predicted it would be TB, and that it would be bovine. I then had to do sputum samples and TB blood tests etc and it was eventually confirmed that I had TB on April 11th. It was detected by a sputum sample taken on March 23rd, which had to be cultured, hence the delay in diagnosis. (The gold standard Quantiferon blood test was negative.)
The last death in my herd to TB was in Nov 2009, following a surveillance Chembio rapid stat pak test and I have had no problems in my herd ever since. However, in the same way as our alpacas and llamas can carry the disease for years before outward signs present, the same applies to humans. We all know this is why bovine TB is a notifiable disease - because it can be transmitted to humans.
I am now on a nine month treatment regime of a cocktail of drugs and the side effects are very unpleasant but at least I can be cured. We are still awaiting the spoligotype, and I am predicting it will be the same type as my own herd. It could possibly be another spoligotype as I have helped many fellow alpaca owners with the testing of their animals and culling in their herds, so in my case it is vital the spoligotype is determined.
For those of you currently under restriction for TB please protect yourself and your family and follow the advice on our website “You have TB in your herd, what‟s next?” I wrote that article back in 2009.
Any alpaca or llama owner suspected or confirmed as having bTB in their herd receive the „letter of consent to test‟ from AHVLA (a copy of which is on this website) which contains the web address of this site therefore giving them access the detailed advice and information that we have collected over four years from a number of herds.
I adopted serious measures to protect myself back in 2009 and yet it has happened to me. AHVLA automatically notify HPA (Health Protection Agency) of all new TB breakdowns, so if HPA haven‟t contacted affected owners, then that is the fault of HPA not doing their job.
I had regular X rays whilst my herd was under restriction for TB and again a year after my last loss. None of these showed any problems.
Statement from Dr Gina Bromage MA,Vet MB,DVM,MRVCS.
BOVINE TB IN ALPACAS IS NOT LIKE BOVINE TB IN CATTLE
For those people familiar with bTB in cattle, the condition in alpacas comes as a great shock. It is a very different disease in alpacas in all of the following ways: In its severity, its infectivity, its clinical presentation, its response to diagnostic tests and its usual post mortem findings.
Alpacas which contract bTB tend to die with widespread gross lesions at postmortem, in contrast with the more modest post mortem picture in cattle. These lesions are frequently open, but do not seem to prevent the animal behaving and eating apparently normally until the terminal stages of disease, sometimes not even then. Although wasting has been seen terminally, it is not a particular feature of bTB in alpacas, as it is in cattle.
Herds which contract bTB seem to spread it readily amongst the members of the group; i.e. it appears much more infectious than it generally is in cattle. Some individuals appear to be able to survive while infected for a number of years, although for some the course of the disease is much shorter. Clinical signs are often precipitated following a stress event such as shearing or being moved to another farm.
Infected animals often become ill with a respiratory disease, fail to respond to empirical treatment for pneumonia, and eventually die or have to be euthanized. However, in many cases a fat, apparently healthy animal can quite suddenly die for no apparent reason. Since the clinical picture is not unique, unless post mortem examination is routinely carried out, bTB will be missed in alpaca herds. In the recent past increasing numbers of alpacas which die have been disposed of without a post mortem examination being performed.
The legally required diagnostic test for bTB, the comparative intradermal skin test, is not helpful in detecting bTB in alpacas, showing a sensitivity of under 5%.
In summary: It’s hard to detect, and therefore easy to hide, and very infectious, so it can devastate a herd.
Statement from Mike Birch who keeps a herd of alpacas in Nottinghamshire and is a former Chairman of the British Alpaca Society.
Dianne's illness has brought the bovine TB problem into still sharper focus, and demonstrates the real driving force behind the issue, in that it is a zoonotic disease that people can catch, which if left untreated would prove fatal. The human treatment is long term with difficult side effects - it isn't simply a matter of a couple of weeks of pills but an unpleasant nine month multi drug regime. Since learning about the disease Dianne has taken extreme precautions for herself and her alpacas, and has fought to get the message through to the alpaca community, which to some is an inconvenient truth that they don't want to hear. If there is to be any good to come from her illness, it may be to make the general public realise that we have a serious disease in the UK that is not only devastating for the cattle industry, but which threatens ever more spillover species, and that its control, and the control of its spread into areas with as yet unaffected wildlife is an urgent matter.
With the exception of spread by animal movements which has occurred several
times, the risks of infection to alpacas is much the same as in cattle, with breakdowns mainly in the same high risk areas in the southwest of England and Wales. Movement of infected animals has also led to new breakdowns, in some cases in newly established herds. Highlighting the issue in camelids is unpopular to those with short term aims, but we think it is essential if camelids are to have a long term future in the UK. bTB in camelids presents different issues than in cattle as they can be heavily infected with gross lesions yet show no symptoms until the
very late stages of the disease. Apparently healthy alpacas that have been given up as dangerous contacts have been found to be riddled with lesions in the lungs and other organs.
Camelids sit outside the legislation that affects cattle. There is no requirement to test for TB, and in any case the skin test is now widely accepted as being ineffective at detecting bTB in camelids. Initial detection of bTB therefore relies largely on PM findings and the honesty of owners. Herds can come out of restrictions on the ineffective skin test alone. Recent research paid for by alpaca owners has shown that the existing rapid stat pak blood test is effective at removing more infected
camelids from affected herds, but as yet its use is not mandatory. The Camelid Support Group would like to see it introduced as the minimum standard to come out of restrictions if we are to remove infected animals and halt the spread of the disease within and between herds. The emphasis has to be on beating the disease, not the system. As most alpaca owners are from non agricultural backgounds, and probably don't read the farming press, the Camelid TB Support group think it is essential to keep reminding the camelid owning community about bTB and biosecurity in general, especially new owners. The Llama Society has responsibly informed their members of Dianne's situation, but as of 25th April 2012, the BAS has not informed its members. At the recent World alpaca conference, attended by many international delegates, despite bTB and bTB control measures being the largest single cause of death in alpacas in the UK (so far no one has disputed that statement), the subject was not on the agenda. It is worth noting too that we are may be approaching a point where more alpacas may be owned by non BAS members than by its members, and in the absence of legislation there is no record of their stock nor a route to communicate with the keepers.
For anyone wanting more information on bTB in camelids visit www.alpacatb.org