Keeping tabs on bTB!

The Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Welsh and Scottish governments.  Amongst its responsibilities is identification and control of endemic and exotic diseases and pests in animals, plants and bees, and surveillance of new and emerging pests and diseases, and scientific research to combat and control them.

Throughout the year, APHA publishes blogs which highlight the breadth of scientific work it is involved in, sharing the latest developments.  In one of its latest scientific blogs, APHA provides an update on the tools being developed for the fight against bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

More than 40,000 cattle are slaughtered each year due to bTB and while the disease is a threat to all cattle farmers, for rare breeds the impact of a positive test could be critical – and currently some of our rarest breeds, like the Gloucester, are concentrated in areas like the south west of England that are high risk for bTB.

One of the tools the blog describes is a new approach to cattle testing.  The standard test, while well-established and widely used, can take up to 22 weeks to get a result, meaning that farmers can have a long wait to find out if their cattle have bTB.

In an effort to find a quicker solution, AHA has developed a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and started using it to test certain bTB cases in March 2022.   The PCR takes just a few days and allows results to be reported and any follow up control measures to be applied more quickly. So far, there has been positive feedback from industry, and APHA aims to introduce this test for all cases in 2023.

As well as working on ways to deal with the disease, APHA offers support and advice for its prevention.  In 2015 it introduced Information bTB (ibTB), a free-to-access, online interactive mapping tool (developed by APHA and Environmental Research Group Oxford) to help cattle farmers and their vets understand the level of bTB in their area and manage the risks when purchasing cattle. It is based on current and past bTB data and allows users to see the current and historic record of bTB infection in specific geographical locations in England and Wales.

APHA publishes its science blogs throughout the year and the bTB blog can be found at https://aphascience.blog.gov.uk/2023/03/24/tb-day-2023/, where you can also subscribe to receive email alerts as soon as new blogs are published.  The interactive bTB map can be found at https://ibtb.co.uk/