Bovine TB may spread via badgers

A recent study in the United Kingdom found a clear link that badgers spread bovine tuberculosis to cattle, adding further justification to a government plan to cull badgers to combat the disease.

The researchers used bacteria DNA to provide clear evidence that TB can spread between cattle and badgers. The team used the genomes of bacteria isolated from 26 cows and four badgers during bovine TB outbreaks in Northern Ireland and found the strains to be closely related, the Yorkshire Post reports.

The findings did not determine whether transmission occurred from badgers to cows or cows to badgers.

The government's badger culling policy survived appeals in the High Court and the Court of Appeals, but there is strong opposition from animal rights activists attempting to discredit the science behind it. An e-petition that urges the government to abandon the plan on grounds that it would be inhumane and ineffective has more than 160,000 signatures.

"This study provides the first direct evidence of the close relationship between tuberculosis infections in cows and local badgers, at a very local scale," Rowland Kao, the lead scientists on the study, said, according to the Yorkshire Post. "However, only with a larger study might we be able to quantify the extent and direction of transmission between cattle and badgers and reliably inform disease control policies."

The government plans for culling the badgers were postponed until next summer.

Bovine TB leads to millions in lost revenue for the beef sector annually. The vaccine against the disease is between 50 and 60 percent effective. A nine-year trial showed that culling could slow the spread of the disease if more than 70 percent of badgers in an area were killed, the Yorkshire Post reports.