Vets ‘crucial in combating new disease outbreaks’

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The crucial role vets play in combating new disease outbreaks will be discussed at this week’s Australian Veterinary Association national conference in Canberra.

“A new infectious disease is reported somewhere in the world every eight months and most come from animals,”  said Professor Joe Brownlie, from London’s Royal Veterinary College, who will be speaking today, on the first day of the conference.

“So veterinarians play a key role in combating new diseases, particularly in the surveillance, detection and response to animal disease outbreaks.

“Making sure we’re fully equipped to deal with a new, unexpected disease is a global concern.

“Geographical barriers that previously prevented the spread of infection are no longer in place as people travel around the world with greater speed and in greater numbers.

“To provide for the demands of a rapidly growing population, we are also seeing a world-wide increase in imports and exports, including animals, which provides another avenue for the transfer of diseases,” Brownlie said.

“To combat disease in this modern world we need the expertise and collaboration of all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment.

“Veterinary expertise is critical to ensure strategies are in place to deal with unexpected disease and protect and save present and future generations from life-threatening events,” he said.

“For example, in Australia, veterinarians have been instrumental in recognising, identifying and combatting previously unknown infectious diseases such as Australian bat lyssavirus, Menangle virus and Hendra virus.

“All these diseases originated in animals and have transferred to humans, sometimes with fatal consequences.”

The conference, which runs until Friday, will also hear from Dr Ian Dacre, from the World Society of Protection of Animals.

Dacre will demonstrate how veterinarians can help when disaster strikes.

Dacre, a global disaster management expert, has worked throughout the Asia-Pacific region to rescue animals following natural disasters, most recently including the Bangkok floods, Japan’s tsunami, and Queensland’s floods in 2011, and Fiji cyclone Thomas and Haiti’s earthquake in 2010.

At the conference, he will show that a growing world population and higher demand for food animals make the role of the vet even more critical in minimising the impact of natural disasters.

At present, about 60 billion animals are used to produce food around the world each year and this number could double by 2050. The majority of this increase in production is forecast to come from intensive, indoor livestock systems.

This makes disasters even more disastrous if plans to counteract them are not put in place at the earliest possible opportunity with vets at the centre of the planning.

The WSPA expert will argue that both livestock and pets must be included in disaster management plans.

“An event is considered to be a ‘disaster’ if it has caused sufficient damage that the affected community is not able to cope by itself,” Dacre said.

“Following events such as the Victorian bushfires the public has become more aware of how such events can impact animals and there is a general feeling that something must be done.

“Positive steps have already been undertaken, such as the development of the Victorian Emergency Animal Welfare Plan and initiatives by the federal government to look at how national coordination may be best implemented in Australia.”

Dacre added that there is still more work to be done and greater consideration of the role of veterinarians in society.

“Veterinarians are there not only to serve as vaccination clinics, but to take on the greater role of having a duty of care to all the animals in our community. There is never a greater need than when a disaster has just struck.”

 

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