Calls are being made for the compulsory testing of bovine TB in alpacas after an owner contracted the potentially fatal disease.
Diane Summers, 51, from Cornwall, is the first known human to have caught the disease from the increasingly popular animals. Eight of Summers’ 20 strong herd had to be slaughtered prompting her to set up a support group that offers advice for owners who are going through the same thing. They also provide information of how to reduce the risk of bovine TB.
Alpacas have a low risk of transmitting bovine TB, and the disease rarely affects humans. According to Defra, since 1999, the disease has only affected 58 camelid herds in England and Wales.
Summers discovered she had the disease four years after it appeared in her herd. It caused severe flu-like symptoms and needed nine months of drug treatment causing severe side effects.
Speaking to The Guardian, Summers said: “Alpacas have this ability to be absolutely riddled with the disease [internally] and still be strolling around looking perfectly healthy.” However, Ms Summers stated this is not the case with humans, describing it as: “A nightmare. This is a debilitating disease. It absolutely floors you.”
A loophole means that alpacas are not tested for TB, meaning they could carry and spread the disease undetected. Under current rules, owners may even refuse the testing of suspect alpacas. Registration of alpacas and their movement records is also not compulsory, something the National Farmers Union wants to change. This would mean that animals could be traced should an outbreak of the disease occur.
According to Defra, the current skin test used on cattle is not effective at detecting TB in alpacas, which is why they cannot be monitored more closely. Speaking to The Guardian, a Defra spokesperson confirmed: “We are currently looking further at how the disease can be controlled in these animals.”