University of Edinburgh publish report on Kimblewick Hunt bovine tuberculosis outbreak

The Kimblewick Hunt at the Thame Show in 2011
The Kimblewick Hunt at the Thame Show in 2011

The University of Edinburgh has released a report into the outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) at the  Kimblewick Hunt last year.

The Kimblewick Hunt, which counts Tory peer and former Countryside Alliance deputy chief executive Lord John Gardiner of Kimble as an honorary member, implemented biosecurity measures at its base last year, near Aylesbury, to contain the disease.

The causes of the outbreak of bTB at the Kimblewick Hunt are uncertain but the most likely causes are dogs bringing the disease back from other kennels where they are sent to breed or feeding infected carcasses to the hounds.

The report states: “Overall, 97 of the 164 hounds tested in the initial screening tests were euthanased.

“Once in the kennels, infection appears to have spread horizon-tally between the hounds, suggesting that in certain conditions suchas intensive housing of large packs, relatively high rates of transmission can occur within dog populations.

“The spread of the disease was exacerbated by over-crowding of hounds in the kennels.”

The disease can also spread to humans.

Eleven people who had been in contact with the hounds were therefore tested.

One tested positive and has been diagnosed with latent TB.

A statement from Kimblewick Hunt said: “Hunt kennels are subject to a rigorous regime of arranged inspection, follow-up and random spot checks.

“The standards for hunt kennels were developed and are overseen by vets with a specialist understanding of the needs of working dogs kept in packs. All kennels that feed fallen stock are also subject to inspection by Defra.

"The Master of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) has already carried out its own inquiry into the disease outbreak in the Kimblewick kennels. As the scientific report confirms, there is uncertainty about the source of the infection and the MFHA is clear that the hunt behaved properly and responsibly at every stage. The hunt and the MFHA liaised with Animal and Plants Health Association (APHA), The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Chief Vet throughout the outbreak.

“A replacement for the Kimblewick kennels was already planned and has subsequently been completed. Advice has been agreed with DEFRA and the Chief Vet and issued to all hunts that will limit even further the risk of another outbreak.”

The report says: “Once infection was confirmed by a laboratory culture from samples taken from the hounds, Health Protection England (HPE) was informed to assess therisk to human health. An in‐depth risk assessment was conducted,and contacts were stratified in to risk pool Those at highest risk of exposure were screened initially. This investigation and its findings are thesubject of an additional study, where 11 people were screened. One person has tested positive for TB on initial screening and has sincebeen diagnosed with latent TB.”

Due to the nature of the contact between this individual and the infected hounds, it remains possible but unproven that the person was infected by contact with eitherthe hounds and/or contaminated bovine material.

The report evaluates the likely causes of the outbreak, outlining three possible reasons. One is the movement of infected hounds into the kennels, two the feeding of the hounds with infected meat, and three cites exposure to infected livestock or wildlife during exercising.

Exposure to infected animals was deemed unlikely, the report stating: “Kennel staff reported that direct contact between wildlife and working hounds during exercise was unlikely. However, the worst case scenario of an encounter with an infectious badger, or infected carcase could have been missed.”

It is thought to be the biggest ever potential outbreak of bTB among dogs in Britain.

Hunting with dogs was banned in 2005 but hunts still legally carry out trail hunting where hounds follow an artificially laid scent.

Critics say they often lead to the “accidental” deaths of foxes as hounds pick up a genuine scent and flush out a live animal.

While bTB is usually linked to cattle and badgers, infections have also been found in other animals including sheep, goats, horses, pigs, deer, dogs and cats.

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