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One positive case of Bovine Tuberculosis has been identified from Belize Print E-mail
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Written by The Guardian   
Thursday, 20 February 2014 14:26

After repeated tests in the Central Regional Laboratory in Merida on January 27, 2014, a sample from one cattle farm in Belize, has tested positive for the Mycobaterium bovis; a bacterium in the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex of the family Mycobacteriacea known to cause Bovine Tuberculosis. This particular type of bacteria has the ability of crossing the animal to human species barrier. This single case can have both trade and public health implications for Belize.

Given the zoonotic nature of Bovine Tuberculosis, meaning it affects both humans and animals, several entities within Belize are now involved; such as the Ministry of Health (Public Health Department) and the Food Safety and Animal Health Departments within the Belize Agricultural Health Authority BAHA.

Bovine Tuberculosis on rare occasions can be contracted by humans from infected cattle via the inhalation of aerosols or the ingestion of unpasteurized milk or by eating unpasteurized cheese. The disease can affect the lungs, lymph nodes and other parts of the human body.

While precautions are being urged, the experts say that healthy humans with a strong immune system will be able to deal with the Mycobacterium bovis naturally. (The human genome has in its record contacts with microbiological pathogens over the millions of years of evolution.) 

“The bacteria that we identified is more specific to cattle, nevertheless; people that are immune compromised could become infected…the Ministry of Health will go in and test people that are directly exposed to the bacteria and see if anybody would have an active infection,” says Belize’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Miguel DePaz.

The successful identification of Bovine Tuberculosis comes from a rigorous checking of Belize's entire cattle herd. One of those sweeping controls is the Belize National Sanitary Cattle Plan Project BNSCPP, which came with BZ$12,000,000.00 of funding from the European Union. BNSCPP is expected to do a second cattle sweep and a third one as well; checking not only for Bovine Tuberculosis but for Brucellosis as well.

One of the good news coming out of the BNSCPP is that no case of Brucellosis has yet been identified in Belize, despite the taking stock of 90,000 heads of cattle. According to the U.S based Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Brucellosis is an infectious disease also caused by a bacteria in cattle and other mammals. Humans can get the disease when they come in contact with infected cattle.

So far, the “cattle sweeps” have reassured the public of the safety of both cow’s milk and cheese for Belizeans and have also resulted in a good price for beef. Belize can now export cattle to Mexico and there is now an informal trade with Guatemala. Thus; the cooperation of farmers is now being actively sought to ensure that each animal is continuously identified and tested for both Bovine Tuberculosis and Brucellosis.

A recent press release from BAHA urges cattle producers to assume their responsibility of having their farms registered, their cattle identified and obtain the movement permits for any movement of cattle out of their farms. The press release ends by stating: BAHA is confident that Belize can, through the BNSCPP, declare itself as free of Bovine Tuberculosis or as Country with low prevalence of Bovine Tuberculosis.

As the Belize Livestock Producers Association BLPA prepares for its Annual General meeting on February 22, 2014 at its Headquarters in Belmopan, where the successes of the cattle sweep under the BNSCPP will be reviewed, CEO Alistair Macpherson doesn’t believe that one single case of Bovine Tuberculosis from thousands of cattle tested so far should “…set alarm bells ringing.”