The quarantine of cattle in a western Canada bovine tuberculosis outbreak continues to grow, even as no new confirmed cases of the disease have been found.
Officials said Wednesday, however, they are now hopeful that the number of animals quarantined or needing to be destroyed may have peaked.
“There is this cautious optimism which exists that we can actually look at the investigation not spreading too far,” Dr. Harpeet Kochhar, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s chief veterinary officer, said during a telephone briefing.
The number of animals in quarantine has risen to 26,000, up from 22,000 last week.
So has the number of ranches affected. Quarantine orders have been issued for 50 properties, up from 40 a week ago.
But Kochhar said detailed inspections of animals for tell-tale signs of the disease have so far turned up nothing, beyond the cattle that were originally found to be infected.
“We are looking for any clinical signs, any lesions, for tuberculosis,” he said. “And the last round (of examinations) which we had, we did not see any signs of that disease.”
Kochhar called that a positive sign at this stage of the agency’s investigation.
In late September, authorities in the United States discovered a cow with bovine TB linked to a ranch in Jenner, Alta.
After an investigation began, the CFIA confirmed that five other animals from the same herd tested positive for the illness.
Since then, much of the beef industry in southeastern Alberta and parts of southwestern Saskatchewan has been on lockdown as investigators scour herds for TB.
Farmers, who would not normally keep cattle over the winter months, have been scrambling for feed, water and in many cases a place to house animals on ranches without winterized feeding facilities.
And with temperatures dropping across the Prairies, the CFIA has also been trying, with little success, to find adequate space for cattle that need housing while they await slaughter.
“We are eagerly and anxiously waiting for the industry to identify a location where we can actually quarantine those calves in the feed lot,” said Kochhar.
Testing of animals for the illness is expected to be complete by mid-January.
In the meantime, Kochhar said the number of animals slated for humane slaughter, as a precautionary measure, remains at around 10,000.