The Department of Natural Resources today announced that Dr. Dan O’Brien – a veterinary specialist with DNR’s Wildlife Disease Laboratory and a leading expert on bovine tuberculosis (TB) internationally – participated in and gave a keynote address at the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s May 14-16, 2012, TB symposium.

Focused on exploring vaccination of wildlife as an option to control the disease in cattle, the symposium brought experts on TB in wildlife from around the world to Belfast to provide input and share experiences on TB management and policy. O’Brien presented two addresses at the symposium: one an update on the state of TB and prospects for TB vaccination in wildlife in the U.S. and Canada, and the other a keynote address on principles and strategies for TB vaccination of wildlife.

“When it comes to TB, some of the world’s greatest minds were in Belfast for this meeting. It’s an incredible honor to be asked to participate in the symposium and share Michigan’s experience with such an esteemed group of scientists,” O’Brien said. “Taking advantage of the opportunities to learn from and collaborate with colleagues working with TB in other countries is absolutely critical if we’re going to find a way out of Michigan’s TB problem.”

O’Brien explained that, like Michigan, Northern Ireland currently has a problem with TB in its cattle and free-ranging wildlife. The main wildlife hosts of TB in Northern Ireland are Eurasian badgers, part of the TB problem because they live in group dens that are often on cattle farms. In some parts of Northern Ireland – a part of the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union – 15-20 percent of badgers are infected with the disease.

Because badgers are a protected species in the UK, they are not hunted, and culling them is controversial. Research investigating vaccination as an alternative has been under way in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland for several years, and is now yielding information that may be valuable for application in other places where TB is a problem, including Michigan.

Caused by bacteria, TB can infect and kill humans, cause huge economic losses for cattle farmers, and cause significant disease in wildlife.

The government of Northern Ireland supported O’Brien’s trip to Belfast, and no state of Michigan funds were spent to pay for his travel.

Originally from Monroe, O’Brien has worked as a wildlife veterinarian with the DNR’s Wildlife Division since 1999. Prior to coming to the DNR, he worked as a risk assessment toxicologist for the Department of Environmental Quality for several years, and before that in veterinary clinical practice. He holds doctoral degrees in veterinary medicine and epidemiology from Michigan State University, where he is an adjunct professor in the departments of Fisheries and Wildlife and Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Learn more about bovine tuberculosis and other wildlife diseases at www.michigan.gov/wildlifedisease.


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