TB Free England

Bovine TB (bTB) devastates thousands of farming family businesses every year and tens of thousands of cattle are culled annually in England because of it. Find out more about bTB, its impact, and why we must use all available options to make England TB free.

 Cattle culled in England because of bovine TB since January 1 2008

How is bovine TB spread?

Bovine TB is spread from cattle to badgers and badgers to cattle.

Badger and cows_275_154This is known as the cycle of reinfection.

The links between badgers, cattle and TB infection were first suspected in the early 1970s and both experience and experimentation has subsequently proved them beyond doubt. Professor Sir John Krebs concluded in his 1997 report that there was “compelling evidence” that badgers transmit bTB to cattle.

In addition, both the Zuckerman and Dunnet reports to government came to the conclusion that the badger is the most important wildlife reservoir and it is involved in the maintenance and transmission of the disease to cattle.

There is still some uncertainty surrounding bovine TB and the way it is transmitted, but it is mainly a respiratory disease, caught by breathing in the M. bovis bacteria that cause bovine TB. This usually happens when animals are in close contact with each other, so animal density is a major factor in the transmission of M. bovis. Bacteria released into the air through coughing and sneezing can spread the disease to uninfected animals.

Direct transmission can happen, eg through nose to nose contact. There is also evidence that indirect transmission is possible, eg through contact with saliva, urine, droppings, pus from abscesses, etc. We know bovine TB is transmitted from cattle to cattle; from badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers; and badger to badger.

The programme of trials that followed the Krebs report were designed to identify the most effective strategy for preventing bTB in badgers spreading into cattle populations.

Cattle movements are also part of the problem and have been linked to taking the disease to previously TB-free areas. However, evidence shows that, providing the wildlife is not also harbouring the disease, this doesn’t lead to a long-term TB problem. For example, Northumberland has had pockets of bTB caused by cattle movements, but the outbreak has been stamped out and there is no evidence of any wildlife reservoir of the disease in this area.

The vast majority of bTB outbreaks occur in the 'hotspot' bTB areas of the South West and the West Midlands, and in these high-risk areas up to 50% can be attributed to localised transmission involving infected badgers.