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Research leads to better TB control methods

Innovative research leads to better TB control methods

Possum behavioural studies, weka-safe bait stations and new DNA strain typing methods are just a few of the Animal Health Board’s latest research projects reporting successful results.

The results are summarised in its 2008-09 Annual Research Report just published.

“We have completed some interesting studies on possum feeding behaviour that shows us that they are creatures of habit when it comes to foraging for food on the forest floor. This finding means that in certain circumstances we can refine how and where we apply baits by air, meaning less can be used more effectively,” said Penny Fairbrother, the Board’s Research Co-ordinator.

The development of a new DNA strain typing method or DNA “fingerprinting” will also bring great benefits to the TB control programme. Because there are different strains of TB, DNA strain typing can be used to identify where in New Zealand the infection originated and therefore whether it is likely to have come from a nearby wildlife source or imported from another herd. This is very useful in tracing disease sources and determining what level of action needs to be taken in the event of an outbreak.

“Currently DNA test results are read and analysed manually. The new system will be computerised and able to turn around test results faster so we can act faster, as well as eliminate the possibility of human error,” Ms Fairbrother said.

“Another innovation this year is the development of a bait station which is weka-safe. The use of Feratox (encapsulated cyanide) has been banned from conservation areas where weka are present because of the high risk of them eating bait spilt by possums or rats. The new bait stations have largely addressed the spillage problem and once approved by the Department of Conservation, will let us get on with our work without putting the weka at risk,” she said.

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Other research projects during the past year have included: testing the effectiveness of TB vaccinations; the registration of new toxin products; assessing the uptake of 1080 by native plants, and new devices to map the distribution of possums surviving after control operations.

“It quite often takes years of trials and experimentation before scientific findings can be proved effective, affordable and appropriate to use. It is great to report positive news regarding the potential of our latest research work,” Ms Fairbrother said.

The Animal Health Board is the national agency responsible for controlling bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand. It invests around $2.5 million a year into research and the application of best science and practice to underpin its work in controlling the disease, both in cattle and deer herds and in wild animal populations.

Details of the Board’s research programme and copies of its Annual Research Reports can be found on line at www.ahb.org.nz.


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