We have to stop spread of TB

When I first entered medicine in 1950, tuberculosis had been the major killer of humans since man first walked the earth.

There were still special hospitals for only these patients who suffered declining health for years, coughing their lungs out with little chance of being well.

Also at that time, one in every five children had scars on their neck from having had TB-infected glands removed to prevent the disease spreading further. My own husband carried such a scar, as did many of my childhood friends.

This dreaded disease, although at first thought to be one of poverty and poor housing, was in fact aroused in the rich and the good and killed many people like Shelley, Byron, Mozart and others who are well-known in history.

My grandmother’s sister died from TB at the age of 21, her parents being farmers in the South West.

There was a human type of TB, but also the bovine type, which was spread by milk from the cows.

Until 1950, there were no cures, but then three antibiotics were developed which totally changed our health.

At the same time, when my husband started farming, he decided to go TB-free as there was a premium on cattle and milk free of the bacteria.

Pasteurisation also helped get the problem under control and then the Government started a scheme to clear it from all British herds.

This policy was to protect ourselves, not the cows, and that is still the reason our cattle are checked and removed today.

In order to fulfil the scheme, the Ministry of Agriculture had to pay farmers to accept slaughter of their cows who only tested for the bacteria – they were not sick animals.

I find it very sad that misinformed people blame the farmers for this policy as they never planned the culls.

They only had to accept what the majority proclaimed from parliament.

The main thing now is that we managed to eradicate TB in Britain and when that happened we stopped x-raying all people entering the teaching profession in the late 1970s. It is now back and, along with new cases in Britain, the antibiotics have been met by some resistance to them in the bacteria.

At the same time, the disease has escalated in cows over the world and it has been shown that the bacillus can be carried by wildlife which frequents the pasture.

I remember that rabies got into the foxes near Camberley when I was a child and the Army had to obliterate all carnivores to stop it.

The public understood the danger then and there were no outcries like those being shown by people who misunderstand the need.

I do hope this letter can explain the present situation and make people a little kinder to the vets, farmers and gun men who have to carry out this policy – nobody enjoys such a job.

In future, as the policy to stop all controls on any species occurs, some sort of management must be included to prevent the numbers escalating out of all proportion, which has happened with the badger.

Brock is one of my favourite creatures too, but he does create some problems if the numbers get too large.

Anne Wrangham, MBBS,

By email