Saturday, 6 October 2007

Ruth Watkins - watching with pain

On foot and mouth, she writes: "When epidemiologists are wheeled out of IAH and refuse to acknowledge the usefulness of vaccination against FMD I am still surprised, though I should not be.."

Ruth Watkins, the virologist who, like so many of us, has been watching the progress of the foot and mouth outbreak with such pain, says inthis email today that a very useful web site contains a slide showing the timeline of the first 7 IPs (slide number 12).

If an epidemiologist looked at it, it should strike him that if we had vaccinated immediately upon finding the IP 3 at Egham (having the vaccinators on standby and some 300,000 doses of vaccine ready) infection at IP 7 and IP 8 could have been prevented."

She adds that it seems as though the effect of DEFRA's policy on farming has been disproportionate even if tourism has not been quite as badly hit as in 2001. She feels that "DEFRA employees haven't read the reports following the 2001 outbreak and still think of "costs" as being those that DEFRA would shell out to put vaccinator teams on standby and doses of vaccine at the ready - ie internal costs."

Since FMD is not endemic in Western Europe, routine vaccination is not therefore necessary - which is why there are the banks of vaccine to all serotypes of FMD kept at the ready to use for emergency vaccination to control an incursion, or escape from a laboratory.

As for bluetongue: "UK farmers haven't understood the implications of declaring GB as a BT zone... "

The problem, says Sabine Zentis, (not only an expert in this disease but also a prize-winning breeder of English Longhorns) is that UK farmers haven't understood the implications of declaring GB as a BT zone so that internal movements can happen. Next year things are going to be very much worse.

Frau Zentis writes,

This might be due to the fact that Fred Landeg was quoted as saying that the disease might die out during the winter. The NFU chairman of the Suffolk National Farmers' Union should look over his fence; he's seen only the start of BT but by next year he's going to have to prepare himself for real losses.

Landeg is repeating the same wishful thinking that has been the main policy in Germany and he seems to ignore the fact that this disease just doesn't go away because a vet says so...
October 6th ~ "movements straight to abattoirs outside the restricted zones should be permitted as soon as possible."

Sabine Zentis says," There is no risk involved if animals are slaughtered within a short period of time, say 24 hours."

But plans to resume movement country wide without vector surveillance showing that no culicoides are active because of low temperatures are extremely unwise. While it might seem fine in the UK this year with a low viral load and perhaps not too many culicoides infected, it would be a recipe for disaster next year. Such free movements would increase the spread of BT enormously.

The consequences of a massive outbreak as in Northern Europe this year have been an absolute disaster for the sheep sector. On dairy farms even cows are dying of BTV 8 with some farmers losing on average 2 animals per week.

Since it is so important to prevent regions from getting infected by multiple serotypes, BT affected farmers can't export into free regions or regions under restrictions for another serotype. There is no cross protection between the 24 different serotypes. A different serotype can cause severe losses to cattle.

However, between the regions affected by the same serotype there are no restrictions in trade. Once the FMD restrictions are lifted the UK will be able to export animals from the BT restricted areas to all areas within the EU affected by the SAME serotype ( zone F). A note of caution from Frau Zentis:

"The legislation is very clear on lifting of restrictions to regain the status: country or region free of BT: a country has to prove by surveillance that for TWO YEARS no virus has been circulating."

Thus the UK must be free from BTV circulation during 2008 and 2009 if restrictions are to be lifted in 2010.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Lambs "starving in fields"

Gordon Brown, we are told, is anxious that the electorate should think that FMD is an issue approaching history.

Yet The Scotsman today points out that lambs are now starving in the fields. The relaxation of restrictions on October 12 will come too late and not go far enough. "...few farmers will be able to meet the strict criteria on movements which threaten to lock up their businesses. The public perception and reality down on the farm are miles apart."

Dan Buglass says a proposal, to be discussed in Brussels later today, may allow for compensation following the killing and disposal of the now excess sheep, "but the cost will have to be picked up by the UK government."

He adds, "The hint of an impending general election is in the air, but the Prime Minister is keen to avoid a repeat of the scenario of 2001..." The public at large does not fully comprehend that small unwanted lambs are dying and bull calves are being born and then shot - all because of a disaster not of the farmers' making.

The animal loving public would be horrified - but as we have seen there is a deafening silence in most of the press about the handling of foot and mouth - and yet another anodyne "Review" is about to take place.

Sauce for both goose and gander

The NFU has produced its position on blue tongue vaccination, coming out in favour and contrasting its position on FMD.

With FMD, it says, "it takes longer to remove trade restrictions in live animals from a country or zone that has used vaccination against FMD. In the case of BTV the vaccine that is being developed would allow you to distinguish between an animal that had been vaccinated and one exposed to the virus."

This statement is curiously back to front. The vital phrase in the case of BTV vaccine is "being developed". The NFU wants vaccine for Bluetongue because culling doesn't help and meat exports are not normally restricted. They do not want vaccine for FMD because trade suffers an extra three month ban (a ban that is irrational and ought to be changed).

The problem here for the NFU is that differentiating NSP tests for FMD vaccine are firmly established (Uruguay used one of them - the Panaftosa test) to demonstrate freedom of FMD infection with vaccination which was internationally accepted in 2001) while DIVA for bluetongue is not - it is still being developed.

Paul van Aarle of Intervet International wrote about the FMD test, stating that the main characteristics of Chekit-FMD-3ABC are:

  • The test is serotype specific.
  • Antibodies against 3ABC will be demonstrated as from 10-14 days after infection.
  • The test does not contain any infectious material and can be run in every laboratory, which is equipped for ELISA.
  • The test provides results within hours.
  • There should be very little problem, therefore, in distinguishing between animals that have been vaccinated and those which are harbouring the virus.

    And for your next trick?

    Two long months ago Chris Huhne MP said:

    The Government deserves congratulation for learning the lessons of its shambolic response to the devastating 2001 crisis by stopping all animal movements and preparing for vaccination of surrounding herds as soon as the virus is identified.

    A clear lesson of the last outbreak was the need for speedy vaccination, so the isolation of the virus and a potential matching with banks of vaccine will be key.

    The other priority has to be to keep rural communities informed as this is a time of high anxiety not just among farmers but also for those involved in rural tourism who were hard hit by an entirely unjustified wave of cancellations last time.
    Has much been heard from Opposition parties since?

    Thursday, 4 October 2007

    More slaughter

    This time IP8 - 95 cattle, 16 sheep and 1 goat - and four more herds killed too.

    IP8 had 95 cattle, 16 sheep and 1 goat. We learned that FMD was detected in four animals (although now it looks as though it was only one) but the lesions were considered to be only 2 days old. There were no signs of old antibodies or active virus in the corpses of the others nor in those premises killed as so-called "dangerous contacts".

    UPDATE: From the OIE "Holding comprising four premises - only one animal at one premises was affected according to preliminary laboratory results, animals at all four premises were stamped out for disease control purposes." i.e., 135 cows and 16 sheep. The goat is not mentioned by Dr Reynolds.

    Knowledge that the lesions tested in IP8 proved to be the result of fresh infection must raise very serious questions about spread.

    In the continuing absence of ring vaccination we can gloomily forecast further panicky killing without benefit of testing first.

    All who have studied the question know that the technology to test accurately and rapidly on-site exists and works see here modern potent vaccines give solid protection after one injection for emergency vaccination (see here) No field work has EVER shown spread from vaccinated animals As for vaccine "masking disease" this fallacy needs to be urgently and publicly investigated - not reported in the press as fact. Animals are vaccinated in herds and from the outside inwards.

    Even if vaccination came too late to prevent infection in the cases nearest the epicentre, there would be no subsequent spread. To hear ignorance among those directing the killing policy is heartbreaking in the extreme and one cannot but wonder what on earth is going on. Some have even suggested deliberate land clearance. The alternative seems to be dithering ignorance and incompetence on a tragic scale.

    Wednesday, 3 October 2007

    "The decision would be adopted formally from October 12 but would enter into force only if there were no more outbreaks outside the affected area, the Commission said..." (Reuters)

    Unfortunately "no more outbreaks outside the affected area" is looking a little unlikely since, without the confidence that ring vaccination would have brought, killing animals is the only way to attempt to kill the virus. The lesions on the cattle at "Infected Premises number 8" at Ankerdyke Farm, Wraysbury were only three-days old - putting paid to any idea that traces of the virus around Egham are the dying embers of disease that somehow got there from Pirbright. 3 day old lesions indicate active virus, not antibodies.

    This virus is still very much on the move.

    The pressure on DEFRA must be intense now to slaughter anything even remotely suspicious - and to do so fast and without bothering too much about test results - and this will be adding to the dread in the so ironically named "Protection" zone.

    An example of such dread comes from today's emails

    "If my beautiful pedigree Jersey herd is taken out because of the incompetence, ignorance and sheer bloody mindedness of DEFRA, the EU and that ridiculous Dr.Reynolds then they had better beware..."

    As a ProMed moderator said on Oct 1st "Clearly, this outbreak is threatening to spread, and it is difficult to be confident that it will not spread extensively."

    EU agrees changes to export rules

    Changes to meat and meat products export rules have been agreed in Brussels today.

    The EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health have today agreed a regionalised approach which frees up trade from some parts of Great Britain. This applies to meat and meat products from FMD susceptible species to other EU Member States.

    DEFRA says, "changes are expected to come into effect on 12th October, subject to there being no change to the current disease situation."

    Reuters says, "...EU veterinary experts backed a decision that "the whole of Great Britain would remain a high-risk area with regard to the movement restrictions for susceptible animals and untreated products.

    The decision would be adopted formally from October 12 but would enter into force only if there were no more outbreaks outside the affected area, the Commission said...".