As a veterinary student, I hope to soon join a profession concerned with animal health and welfare. Safeguarding humans, however, is an important aspect of the job, and not just for state veterinary officers. The European Commission recognizes the importance of animal-human health links and the EU Animal Health Strategy 2007-2013 encompasses prioritizing animal health issues, a single legal framework, research, surveillance, threat prevention and preparation for emergencies, in an effort to combat animal- human health problems. How does this affect vets in practice? In answer, let’s consider a day in the life of a first opinion mixed practice vet, which is where I soon hope to be.
At 4.30 a.m. our vet is called out to a dystocic calving. On arrival the vet dons clean protective wear, which he washes and disinfects thoroughly again some time later, having successfully delivered the calf. Although obvious, this step is important to maintain farm biosecurity; after all, what better fomite for zoonotic and other disease than a vet? Biosecurity on the farm, as well as at a national level and across borders, is vital to public and animal health and vets play a role in its maintenance.
The vet nips home for a cup of coffee and glances over yesterday’s paper. Veterinary public health issues can be emotive topics which frequently populate the media e.g. recent E. coli outbreaks and extensive avian and swine influenza coverage. We won’t readily forget reports of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. This was devastating for animals, livestock producers and the public; although not zoonotic, the impact on humans was great. Vets are involved in the midst of such outbreaks and their vigilance for exotic and notifiable diseases can enable prompt action.
As the vet moves on to the sports section, he adds a splash of milk to his coffee. The producer of the milk is part of the National Dairy Farm Assured Scheme and their vet was involved in forming a herd health plan and advising how to meet the required health, welfare, hygiene, traceability and biosecurity standards. Coffee finished, our vet heads into work.
Morning surgery is busy. Animal-human health links are not restricted to food producing animals, but extend to companion animals, with dogs alone reported to carry over 60 zoonoses worldwide. Our vet routinely advocates anthelmintic products which protect animal health but are also important to humans. One example is hydatid disease; the requirements and should keep owners informed and help preserve cross border biosecurity.
After a busy morning the vet finds a moment to quickly eat a ham sandwich. The ham will have been subject to various veterinary regulations during production, as animal food products are an important source of zoonoses. Currently the EU’s most commonly reported human zoonosis is campylobacter, with 57,590 UK cases reported in 2007. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, and can be serious in young and elderly people. It is concerning that fluoroquinolone use in poultry has led to fluoroquinolone resistant campylobacter infecting humans. When prescribing antimicrobials, vets should consider their importance in human health, and withdrawal times should be adhered to.
The afternoon is spent mainly attending farm calls, starting with some TB testing. Fortunately due to milk pasteurization, zoonotic transfer of TB in the UK is now low, although the cost of compensation for bovine tuberculosis loses is high. It cost circa £140K in the UK from the year 2002 to 2005 inclusive, and controlling this disease is important to the general public as well as livestock.
The next call is to euthanize a dairy cow. The cow is over 48 months old and so, under EU legislation must be tested for BSE. The BSE link to human new variant CJD was first suggested in 1996. The EU launched a monitoring program, prohibited animal byproduct use in livestock feed, and previously banned British beef exportations. So far this year just five UK bovine BSE cases have been confirmed, unlike the 37,000+ clinical cases in 1992. Vets have been involved at VLA laboratories, in abattoirs with ante-mortem inspections, and out in the field understanding which animals require testing, remaining vigilant for and notifying the divisional veterinary manager of any BSE signs.
The final visit is to complete an equine passport. The Horse Passport Regulations 2009 act No.1611, implementing Commission Regulation (EC) 504/2008, has made equine microchipping mandatory and reinforces that all member state horses require a passport. Identification of horses ensures veterinary products that could endanger humans, such as metronidazole or chloramphenicol, don’t enter the food chain. Prevention of toxic contamination of food products is an important role of a vet, and identification of food producing animals allows product traceability.
After just one day, the vet returns home having encountered various public health responsibilities and opportunities. This is by no means an exhaustive list of zoonoses and animal-human health issues in the UK, let alone the rest of the world. It does however illustrate how prospective students like me can expect to be heavily involved with these issues in their future career. With the current challenges and the continued threat of emerging and spreading disease, any vet can expect to play an important role as the link between animal and human health.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Summer 2010 One Health Newsletter.
Visit the One Health Web site