27 May 2010, 2:46 PM
TB My Story So Far by Dianne Summers, founder of the Camelids TB Support Group
In September 2008 I lost my first beloved male alpaca to Bovine TB. When I got the PM results and was told it was TB I was devastated. At the time all I needed and wanted was to talk to someone else going through the nightmare. I had a million and one questions that I needed answering and only someone going through it would have been able to help. My first call was to the British Alpaca Society (BAS) who put me in touch with Jay Holland whose advice was helpful but I wanted to talk to a fellow sufferer because at this point I felt I was the only one this has happened to and I felt very alone and totally isolated. I was told by BAS that at the time 14 herds were under restriction so I asked BAS to call a meeting so we could come together and share information. This meeting was held in June. Following that meeting and my many appearances on TV and the media telling my story I eventually managed to make contact with 8 other Alpaca owners and 2 llama owners affected by TB, some under restriction at the moment others have been through the process and are now,clear - but this wasnt until June 09 so I went 8 months with very little information other than,making my farm badger proof etc etc nothing about what you should do if you become infected,or recommendations on preventing the spread from one alpaca to another within my herd..
I began to gather their data their symptoms - their timelines the numbers lost skin test results and the wealth of information gathered has been invaluable to not only myself but to others especially to newly infected herds and current herds under restriction. I have also passed this information onto BAS and the VLA and of course to my own vet and also to Gina Bromage
who is very interested in any information we can gather on this disease as she admits herself that at present even vets have very little or no knowledge on the subject of TB in camelids. I only pass on the data never the names of those that provided it. What I soon realised was that our stories are so very similar and the skittle effect we are experiencing of one loss after another over a short period of time shows just how highly contagious this disease is and how quickly it passes from one alpaca to the other. They can carry this disease for years before succumbing to the disease but once one goes down then others tend to follow in rapid succession.
At the time of writing this article I have lost 4 of my group of 7 boys. I have been through 2 lots of skin testing and had negatives then had to watch my animals fall ill and then have had to make that painful decision to euthanise.
My loss of 4 is nothing in comparison to some others. As of August 17 2009 between the 11 of us we have lost 103 camelids to Bovine TB. One of our group has lost 30 of their herd and has been advised to cull the remainder of their herd. .Many alpaca owners are deeply attached to their animals, and the distress of losing them one by one in an exorable and macabre domino effect is terribly distressing.
From the data gathered amongst our group it appears we are all being dealt with differently by our individual AH Officers some are made to sign paperwork agreeing to slaughter any positives others do not some are told to totally isolate their entire herd by setting up secondary fencing others arent told anything - some are offered to take animals as dangerous contacts others do not even know what a dangerous contact is some have received compensation, others havent had any.
What has come out of our group is the large number of FALSE NEGATIVES on the skin tests that we get but as of today amongst our group no one has had a FALSE POSITIVE skin test. Once we have culled a positive reactor they have been confirmed Tb on PM. If anyone out there has had a false positive on the skin test then please let me know.
Many people do not want it mentioned about the skin test being inaccurate but I totally disagree because when my entire herd of 18 were negative on the first round of skin tests I thought I was in the clear I even celebrated with opening up bottles of champagne and I felt the weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders. I looked at the next skin test to be carried out 90 days later
was just a mere formality and all of this was behind me. How wrong was I?
Within weeks of the first round of negative tests I had an alpaca develop a cough no other symptoms no weight loss - nothing I thought to myself it cannot be TB, he has just had a negative skin test. My vet came out treated him for bronchitis etc and he recovered the coughing stopped... On the next round of skin test he came up as a positive all my others negative. I agreed to have him culled and the PM came back and he was riddled with TB. My life and the way I did things from that point changed dramatically.
2 weeks after the second round of skin tests another one of my herd Pablo developed a cough. Even though he had been through 2 rounds of skin tests and tested negative I knew now not to pay any attention to the skin test and I isolated him with a mate. Vet treated him for bronchitis etc but his cough didnt improve he had no weight loss was eating all his feed no symptoms at
all other than a cough and bouts of hiccups. Having now formed the support group and was in contact with others I received an email from one of them stating that his biggest regret was he never did anything sooner about his female that had developed a cough. But why would we when no article has ever mentioned the skin test gives numerous false negatives and lets face it alpacas can develop a cough without it being TB. As soon as I read his email I contacted AH and told them to let Pablo go and to take his mate Willow who I had isolated him with as a dangerous contact... I cannot tell you how difficult that decision was having to hold what appeared at the time to be two perfectly healthy animals that I loved whilst they were euthanised was horrendous - I felt like an abattoir and I felt I had put down two of my beloved boys for no reason at all.
With the help of a very dear friend we took them in the back of our cars to the VLA who stayed open especially for us and James Barnett worked on the PMs that night I retuned home totally distraught and sat by the phone. 4 hours later James Barnet my VLA officer phoned me and told me they were both riddled with TB they had massive open lesions in their lungs and Willow who had no symptoms at all - he even had them in his throat. You could easily have been standing next to 3 of my 4 losses at a show or welcome them to your farm for a mating because they looked perfectly well. This is the point I am trying to make.
There is a strong temptation to refuse testing and to carry on selling animals offering matingservices etc because of the lack of formal compensation, but of course that is the way infection will spread around the industry. We have a responsibility to not only our own animals but to those they may come in contact with