August 13, 2009

Scientist’s TB may have come from badger

A British government scientist is believed to have contracted bovine tuberculosis from an infected badger, a government official said.

Thirty other staff members employed by the government's Food and Environment Research Agency in Woodchester, England, near Stroud, are also being tested for the often deadly infectious disease, said Alison Wilson, FERA's head of executive support.

This is the first time a suspected case of mycobacterium bovis has jumped the species barrier and caused human tuberculosis among government scientific staff members in the 30 years of official research into the disease, The Times of London reported.

The staff members are all involved in studying the spread of bovine TB for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responsible for British environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities.

If confirmed, senior veterinary surgeons and farmers' leaders are likely to renew their demand for an emergency cull of badgers in disease hot spot areas, notably southwest England, the newspaper said.

Plans are already under way in Wales for a pilot cull of badgers to help to curb the disease's spread, The Times said.

Robbie McDonald, the department's head of wildlife and emerging diseases, told the newspaper bovine TB was a serious infection but rare in Britain, with most cases linked to drinking unpasteurized milk.

He said the risk to the general public was very low.

But a paper published in the medical journal Thorax, about a bovine TB case involving a 42-year-old former veterinary nurse in Cornwall, England, suggested the disease could spread more widely.

It concluded the woman could have inhaled bacteria from badger urine in her yard while touching soil or grass, or contracted the disease through broken skin. A badger, a member of the weasel family, had wandered into her yard.