Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 17:07 UK

Fears after alpacas contract TB

Diane Summers and alpaca
Dianne Summers does not know how her alpacas became infected

An alpaca farmer in Cornwall has had to have four of her animals put down after they tested positive for Bovine TB.

Under Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) rules, there is no legal requirement for alpacas to be tested for the disease.

But Dianne Summers, who lives near Redruth, believes it is the responsible thing to do.

Vets have now taken blood samples from the remainder of her 15-strong herd to determine if any more have the disease.

I fear it's a nightmare that's not going to end
Dianne Summers, alpaca farmer

"I've been through two lots of skin testing already, but unfortunately we keeping getting false negatives," she told BBC news.

Ms Summers said she can understand why other alpaca and llama owners are reluctant to have their herds tested.

"It could close their business down for 180 days, but you've got a moral and ethical duty to the people you're selling animals to, or if you're attending shows or offering matings you've got to think about their animals and not just your own."

Blood is taken from an alpaca
The results of blood tests on the herd will take about a week

Alpacas have little resistance to TB and can die within six months of catching it.

Local vet Pam Hawk said where animals have the disease, she would like to see Defra regulations changed to allow for compulsory testing on the rest of an infected herd, with any outside contacts traced and followed up.

Ms Summers, who has no cattle on her land and is not aware of any badger setts, said she does not know how her alpacas contracted Bovine TB.

She will have to wait about a week to find out if the rest of her herd has been infected.

"Since it all started in September it's been an absolute constant nightmare and I fear it's a nightmare that's not going to end," Ms Summers said.

'Negligible risk'

Alpacas, which originally come from the high plains of Peru, Bolivia and Chile in South America, are slightly smaller than llamas and are normally bred for their wool.

The British Alpaca Society said there are about 1,000 registered alpaca owners in the UK and more than 20,000 animals.

A society spokesman said although TB was not common in the UK, there have been a few reported incidents.

Defra said the risk to people contracting TB from livestock, including alpacas, was considered "very low".

"At present, less than 1% of all confirmed cases of TB in humans are due to bovine TB," a Defra spokesman said.

"This view is supported by the Health Protection Agency, who identify the current risk posed bovine TB to human health as negligible."

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