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Tools for animal health management

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Livestock owners are one of the best sources of information

Term: 2012
Published: November 23, 2012
Revised: February 27, 2014

Fact sheet

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Fact sheet: Tools for animal health management Dr Mary-Louise Penrith

Tools for gathering and disseminating information

Animal disease surveillance as defined by the World Organisation for Animal health (OIE) is ‘The systematic ongoing collection, collation and analysis of information related to animal health and the timely dissemination of information to those who need to know so that action can be taken’. A functional surveillance system should provide immediate information about any unusual animal disease events so that they can be dealt with in a timely fashion before they become a crisis. Surveillance is a core responsibility of the government veterinary services, but in order to be effective the surveillance system must be able to tap all possible sources of information in the public and private sectors, including sources that provide relevant information on human health and animal health events in wildlife populations. Ideally, an animal disease surveillance network should exist that is coordinated by the government veterinary services but has its roots at the level of the livestock farming community. Information management systems must be in place so that the information gathered is handled as effectively as possible and is available to be communicated in an appropriate format at all levels, from reporting to international organisations to providing feedback to all those who have supplied information and/or who need to know what the animal health situation is in their geographical area or field of interest.  A veterinary diagnostic laboratory that is adequately equipped, staffed with skilled personnel, and with links to reference laboratories to enable specialised testing as required is indispensable to ensure the quality of animal disease information.

Tools to support planning and evaluation

Various techniques have been developed to support planning of animal health management strategies and to monitor and evaluate animal health interventions. These include risk analysis, which involves hazard identification, risk assessment, risk management and risk communication, in order to be able to identify animal health risks and implement measures to mitigate them if deemed sufficiently serious in terms of their potential consequences to warrant intervention. Recently, guidelines have been provided for the application of risk analysis and risk mitigation throughout livestock value chains, an approach that has long been adopted in order to ensure that food processing results in a safe product (HACCP), making use of critical control points that are measurable and facilitate auditing and certification. Contingency planning for animal disease outbreaks is strongly advocated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to ensure that countries are prepared if a disease emergency should arise; the essence of contingency plans is that they should be practical and their implementation feasible under the conditions where they will be used. Mathematical modelling is another technique that is increasingly used in animal health and has proven particularly useful for evaluating disease control interventions and comparing them with other options to ensure that control was achieved in the most effective and cost-effective way. Because the available data are not always entirely reliable, caution has been advised when modelling is used for planning interventions in an emergency situation. 

Tools for disease prevention and control

The tools for intervention and control include vaccination, chemotherapy and chemoprophylaxis, the application of biosecurity measures, segregation of populations of different health status (the creation of disease-free zones or compartments), commodity-based trade, animal identification and traceability (which has various uses but is clearly advantageous for disease control), and natural resistance to specific diseases or their vectors. Not all of the tools can be applied in all circumstances, and very often a combination of tools is required to achieve adequate management of a disease.

Find out more

  • Web-based modules for degree purposes or CPD on issues that influence animal health management and managing animal diseases for trade are available in which objectives, approaches, impacts and challenges are explored.
  • Web-based modules on high impact diseases provide more detail on how individual diseases of importance are managed.
  • Web-based modules on the various tools used for animal health management provide more detail on laboratory diagnostics, molecular applications, passive and active surveillance for animal diseases including participatory surveillance, animal identification and traceability, disease freedom for countries, zones or compartments, the use of vaccination, the role of therapeutics and the principles of biosecurity.
  • Web-based modules on zoonotic diseases explore the way those diseases manifest in and spread between humans and animals.
  • Web-based modules for CPD or degree purposes on emerging and re-emerging diseases discuss the drivers that have resulted in ‘new’ diseases, many of which are zoonotic, and the challenges that occur when a ‘new’ disease emerges or an old disease assumes new patterns.
  • Web-based modules on livestock marketing and trade provide insight into the challenges posed by animal health issues that have to be overcome in order to support international trade in livestock and livestock commodities.

This Work, Tools for animal health management, by Dr Mary-Louise Penrith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.