Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
March 29, 2004
Badgers spreading TB in Ireland, U of G scientists searching for solution
Researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College are working to help Irish farmers alleviate the problem of wild animals spreading diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) to domestic cattle.
Professor Wayne Martin and doctoral student Francisco Olea-Popelka from the Department of Population Medicine have found that wild animals such as badgers living in farm fields and pastures are carrying the bacteria that cause TB.
While the infectious bacterial disease that typically begins in the lungs is under control or even considered eradicated in most developed countries, TB remains a problem in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Wild animals, such as the possum in New Zealand and the badger in the United Kingdom and Ireland, can act as TB reservoirs. And the Irish badger population is loaded with TB. The Guelph researchers say these animals are spreading the disease to domestic livestock animals such as cattle, ringing up a high price for animal health, producers’ profits and the image of livestock abroad.
“This is a widespread and complex problem that isn’t well understood,” said Martin. “But in Ireland, we’re 99 per cent sure that badgers can spread TB to cattle.” Although animals infected with TB rarely get sick with the disease, they have no economic value because they can’t be sold. And, inspection and testing fees for TB are considerable costs for the Irish agriculture industry.
For the past 13 years, Martin has been working with Irish officials – from on-farm animal control officers to Ireland’s chief veterinary officer. Irish officials hope to eventually control TB using a badger vaccine. But first, researchers must better understand how cattle contract TB from badgers. TB can be transmitted by direct contact between badgers and cattle, from contaminated watercourses or through contaminated pastures.
Martin and Olea-Popelka are studying badger ecology and analyzing badger characteristics from three recent large-scale badger removal projects. By determining TB infection rates and distribution in the badger population, and comparing TB types in the badger population to those in cattle, the researchers hope to gain insight into how TB is transmitted from badgers to cattle.
“We hope our research eventually leads to a way of controlling the disease,” Martin said. “But it would be naive to think we will have the answer by next year.”
The research is funded by the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Assessment at the University College Dublin, Belfield Campus, Dublin, Ireland.
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