Bovine TB case probed in southeastern Alberta

(Photo courtesy Canada Beef Inc.)

About 30 farms in southeastern Alberta are under federal quarantine as federal and provincial officials try to track down cattle exposed to bovine tuberculosis (TB).

The investigation follows a notice in late September from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that a cow from Alberta had tested positive for bovine TB at a U.S. slaughter plant.

That finding has so far led to three premises in the province’s southeast being declared infected, as the lone confirmed infected animal’s home (index) herd is based on those three properties, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson said Tuesday.

Preliminary testing of the index herd has been completed and results are still pending from those tests, according to Alberta Beef Producers in a separate statement last week. Tests are now also underway on other herds that had direct contact with the infected animal, ABP said.

CFIA said last Thursday its veterinarians and inspectors are now contacting cattle producers in Newell County, around Brooks; the part of Cypress County north of Medicine Hat; the Municipal District of Acadia; and Special Areas No. 2 and No. 3, north of those municipalities.

The search area may expand as more information turns up about potentially exposed animals and their movements, CFIA said. The number of herds quarantined could also increase, ABP said, as tracebacks seek out animals that have had contact with a TB-positive animal over the last five years.

Specifically, CFIA said it plans to track down animals that “may have been exposed” to bovine TB at individual premises in the search area, and/or at the Buffalo-Atlee or Suffield Block community pastures.

The quarantines prohibit any animals being removed from a quarantined farm without CFIA permission. Animals under movement controls are only allowed to move directly to inspected slaughter facilities under a CFIA permit.

Producers in the “general investigation” area who haven’t yet been contacted by CFIA are allowed to move animals and/or ship them to auctions or feedlots, but have to comply with livestock ID requirements.

Movement restrictions on quarantined farms don’t prevent routine visits from service providers such as feed suppliers or building maintenance workers, CFIA said. Visits from hunters are also still allowed, as are visits from energy company employees monitoring or servicing pipelines, drill sites or wells.

Visitors to farms are still encouraged to follow “basic biosecurity precautions.” That said, CFIA noted the human health risk from bovine TB for visitors to farms in the investigation area or under quarantine is “low.”

If any animal under federal quarantine tests positive for bovine TB, CFIA said, the agency will follow “established procedures for destruction and compensation.”

ABP said it’s now working with provincial and federal officials to secure financial support to help producers cover the costs of holding and feeding quarantine animals, and the costs of “lost marketing opportunities” for cattle kept under quarantine.

A federally reportable bacterial disease, bovine TB has been subject to a mandatory national eradication program in Canada since 1923.

Canada is still officially considered to be free of the disease today, CFIA said, and the finding of the lone slaughter cow in the U.S. does not affect Canada’s current status.

The lone finding would only impact Canada’s TB-free status if another separate case is confirmed in Canada within 48 months, ABP said. Other animals that test positive connected to this specific investigation won’t count as a separate case, but are instead considered part of the first case.

While the disease mainly affects ruminants, such as cattle, bison, elk, deer, goats and sheep, it can affect all types of mammals, including people — particularly those who have “extended close contact” with an infected animal while it’s alive. Due to its “extremely low prevalence” in Canada, however, findings of bovine TB aren’t considered a public health threat.

Wildlife, under certain circumstances, can transmit the disease to livestock. There’s no specific federal program to control bovine TB in wildlife populations, but CFIA works with the provinces and Parks Canada on surveillance programs in areas where livestock herds have been infected.

The disease, for example, is still found in wild deer and elk in and around Riding Mountain National Park in western Manitoba. CFIA requires some producers in that area to have their herds tested for TB periodically.

Testing in the Riding Mountain eradication area (RMEA) is most frequent for herds in “higher risk” areas or in areas that have had positives in previous years. In 2014-15, 2,714 cattle in 32 herds were tested for bovine TB.

The surveillance program has allowed the RMEA and the rest of Manitoba to hold bovine TB-free status since 2006. According to CFIA, the most recent case of bovine TB detected in livestock in the RMEA was in May 2008. — Network

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