Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) has been decimating farms across Alberta and Saskatchewan since last fall, but scientists working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico believe they have made a breakthrough in detecting it.
Bovine TB is an infectious disease that can be spread to humans as well as other animals, and when one case is found whole ranches must be quarantined and any animals that could have into contact with a potential infection must be eradicated.
The problem is a big one. There are currently 44 ranches across Alberta and Saskatchewan that are under quarantine because of just six cattle that were found to have TB.
“It is kind of incredible that when one cow is potentially infected the whole herd may have to be culled,” Said Harshini Mukundan, head of the laboratory’s biomedical application team to Global News.
The possible breakthrough comes from using a human TB test and adapting it to work for animals. As there was no previous way of testing a single bovine, this breakthrough could help save ranchers a lot of time and money as well as not having to put down all their cattle.
“If you could have a process that you could run on all of the animals and say, ‘yes, this one has been infected’ and ‘no, this has not,’ then obviously a lot of that time and economic burden could be reduced.” Continued Mukundan.
The current method used to test the bovine is a skin reaction test, which is time-consuming and can sometimes produce less than accurate results.
“It just seems like there hasn’t been any developments for decades. I’m not a scientist, but there must be something better than what we are doing now,” says rancher Brad Osadczuk who lost his heard of 1,500 cattle.
Across the 44 ranches that are under quarantine in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has said that there have been 10,500 cattle eradicated, 9,500 cleared from their quarantine, and there are still 8,500 under quarantine. All-in-all this is costing the ranchers millions of dollars. Ranchers are responsible for putting down their own cattle as well as conducting a thorough cleaning of all the land and equipment which may have been exposed to the TB.
“It has been six months of hell. It took everything we knew — our lifestyles, our ranches, our families and our community and turned it right upside down.” Continued Osadcuzk.
After all cattle involved in the investigation have been cleared or destroyed they will be checked again for TB after six and 18 months.
Compensation is available through the Health of Animals Act for those who have were instructed to destroy their cattle, but there are no dollar amounts mentioned on the CFIA website. Osadcuzk has not let the loss of his cattle deter him, he has already begun to purchase more cattle as well as land which is not part of the quarantined area.
“We feel lucky to have made it through this financially and emotionally,” he said.