A DORSET vet is part of a team pioneering a new bovine TB test which could transform how cattle are assessed.

Alastair Hayton, of Synergy Farm Health, which is based at Evershot, said the new blood and or milk test – which has just been given the thumbs up by Defra to validate – will be significantly cheaper than the current interferon test, and is hoped will significantly aid the detection of bovine TB, especially in endemic TB herds, when used in conjunction with the current tests. The expectation is that it should help herds return to TB free status more quickly, as well as aiding in other areas such as pre or post purchase or movement testing.

The fact that there is the potential that milk could be tested to determine if an animal has the disease opens up a far easier method for farmers and vets to test cows.

Mr Hayton said: “We are pretty confident that the test can deliver what we need it to do, previous work suggests that it has the potential and we are hoping that the new form of the test will perform even better.”

The team includes experts from Scotland and Ireland. The test works by measuring antibodies to bovine TB, unlike the two tests which are currently used, the skin and interferon tests, which measure the cattle’s cellular response. The tuberculin skin test, used across Europe, works by injecting a small amount of tuberculin into the skin of an animal. If an animal is infected, the immune system will react and cause swelling a few days later.

Mr Hayton said: “The immune system can be described as having two arms. The first arm relates to cell mediated immune responses and the second arm relates to antibody related responses. It would make sense when detecting disease to use methods that will look for both areas rather than focusing purely on cell mediated responses, even if this side of the immune response to TB is considered to be the most important. This being particularly the case in bovine TB where we recognise that cell mediated responses can wane in the face of disease such that when chronically or severely infected cattle are tested with the skin test or interferon test they can fail to respond to the current tests.”

According to research by the University of Cambridge, the TB test currently used in Britain could miss as many as one in five TB infected cattle.

Mr Hayton said: “It is still in the late development stage but we have been told by Defra we can move towards validating it which is great news and hopefully we can move quickly to getting the data we need for it to be accepted at the EU and UK level.

“This is a big thing for the industry. You don’t get new bovine TB tests every day. We’ve had great support from the NFU in helping us to get where we are. We are looking at being on the cusp of going out and sampling cows and we will be looking for help from farmers in the next stage, as we will need permission to use the test on their animals and to have access to the follow up data.”


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