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Looking out for new disease risks
  1. Suzanne Jarvis

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Despite a short stormy interlude last week, as Vet Record went to press this week forecasters were predicting more hot and dry conditions for much of the UK, with further predictions of above average temperatures through to October.

Many veterinary and animal welfare organisations, the BVA included, have been highlighting potential animal health and welfare issues caused by the hot weather, including the danger of keeping dogs in hot cars, and also the risk to a number of animals from blue green algae, which bloom more during the warm weather.

The risk from blue green algae is also highlighted in a surveillance focus article in this week’s issue from the APHA on the impact of hot weather on ruminants (pp 154-155).

Problems related to water shortages, heat stress, plant poisonings, and photosensitisation and sunburn are all described. Risks from increased fly populations spreading disease and infections are also mentioned – from blowfly strike in sheep to pink eye and summer mastitis in cattle.

But it is not just in the short term that there is a risk to animals from diseases increasing or appearing in the UK due to the changing environment.

Authors of a research paper on arboviruses in horses, also in this week’s issue (p 159), say with climate change have come concerns that vectors which spread serious viral disease are becoming more established across northern Europe. The mosquitoes and midges that can spread African horse sickness or West Nile virus are already established on equine premises across the UK.

The research looked at how familiar owners were with these diseases, the insects that could spread them and preventive methods. The results showed knowledge was patchy and that veterinarians have a clear role in providing information on both the diseases and the prevention and control of them.

In an accompanying commentary piece, Richard Wall, from Bristol university, highlights that the problem of introduced disease is not just restricted to horses (pp 157-158). Climate change, changes to land and habitat management and the movement of people and animals around the world all increase the risk of disease introduction. He gives the examples of bluetongue, Babesia canis and Rhipicephalus sanguineus but there are many more he could choose from.

He also makes the point that early control of a disease incursion, when pathogens are at their most vulnerable, is the most effective way to control disease and stop it becoming established.

However, without these pathogens being identified it is often easy for them to become established, so surveillance is important here. And vets need to be aware of what to look for and educate owners accordingly. As Wall says: ‘getting people to be aware of and interested in diseases that are not currently a problem and which they have never seen is not straightforward – but is nevertheless essential’.

Without these pathogens being identified it is often easy for them to become established

The importance of surveillance is shown in a letter on p 163. Here, reporting on Calodium hepaticum in wild hares, the authors say that misdiagnosis is possible. Although rare, it is important to identify it correctly as it is a zoonotic disease, and there are reports that misdiagnosis contributed to the deaths of people infected with it.

Another zoonotic hepatic disease for which continual vigilance is needed is Echinococcus multilocularis, which is present in many European countries. Considering the seriousness of Echinococcus, it is vital that every effort is made to keep the UK free of it, so it makes sense to support the BVA’s recent call to change the tapeworm treatment window before entering the UK required by the Pet Travel Scheme from 24 to 120 hours to 24 to 48 hours (VR, 28 July 2018, vol 183, p 112).

As the risk to the UK from potential new diseases hots up, it is clear that vets have a vital role to play in disease surveillance and recognition, mitigating risks where possible and educating owners on what to look for.

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