Summary

"Or Providence sends the pleuro, and big strong beasts slink away by themselves and stand under trees glaring savagely until death comes.''-Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson, 1917, The Bullock

There is potential for disease to transfer to humans from the domesticated animals that we keep or from the wild animal population. We have seen in Chapter 2 that disease can spread from animals to humans and that new diseases of man are often zoonoses. Some animal diseases that do not directly threaten humans, nonetheless, have the potential to significantly disrupt society and threaten our food supply (e.g., foot-and-mouth disease).Therefore, systems that monitor the health of animals need to be coordinated with human disease surveillance systems.

Veterinarians monitor the health of domesticated animals. However, systems for the centralization of health data within the animal health system are not well developed. There is little crossover between systems that capture information on companion animals with those that collect information on farm animals. There is almost no compatible system operating for wild animals. The care of pet animals is through individually tailored heath services; therefore, it is directly analogous to its human counterpart. Conversely, the care of production animals in the United States involves population medicine, which refers to measures designed to maintain the health of a population as opposed to a single patient, to a greater extent than the care of people.

Although private veterinarians do not store diagnoses and treatment data electronically to any greater degree than do physicians and a pet's veterinary record is subject to the same confidentiality rules as its owner's, veterinary care in institutional (zoos, animal parks, aquariums) and animal production industry/public practice settings is well supported by computers, databases, and software. Institutions are universally equipped with EVR systems linked by e-mail into a loose but effective network.

The typical production animal veterinarian is a sophisticated user of statistical tools, more so than his/her physician counterpart, although the emphasis on population medicine has, historically, meant that EVR use for individual animals has not been a priority. This will change as animal producers and processors recognize the economic value of an animal health record. Individual animal illness and treatment records have been successfully deployed on laptop computers for field use. It is likely that agricultural software specialists will develop systems that can provide individual animal and herd data to production veterinarians.

These data are potentially highly accessible and are already very well suited for public health purposes, because of the emphasis on population medicine and a sharing of goals. However, the producers jealously guard these data. Early disease detection in animals translates into lower herd losses and higher profits for the rancher and feedlot operator. Although providing this information to public health authorities is likely to require considerable financial compensation, the industry as a whole will need education to recognize both the personal and national benefits that can arise from cooperation. The development of systems that aggregate data and allow benchmarking of disease, production, and profitability performance may encourage the sharing of data, but they systems will need to demonstrate significant management information to users to encourage large-scale uptake.

Wildlife disease is just one of the many aspects of natural system ecology. All ecological projects compete for limited funds, personnel, and resources from the many organizations involved with wildlife. Limited resources are currently allocated for the study and monitoring of wildlife disease; therefore, there are large gaps in knowledge and a limited disease surveillance system. Systems to identify and quantify risks and to prioritize funding of projects that cross multiple jurisdictions, organizations, and countries require further development. There are, potentially, thousands of diseases of wildlife; hence, surveillance for wildlife disease must be selective. Risk assessment systems are required to identify and prioritize wildlife disease surveillance. The purpose of any surveillance system must be clear. Usually, this purpose is external to wildlife ecology-wildlife disease may have significant impact on human health or trade in agricultural products. Thus, the risk assessment system that develops must be multidisciplinary and the funding system expanded to include contributions from more extensive sources (R. Wood, personal communication, 2005).

A large amount of data is collected by many different organizations working with animals; however, little information is shared or made available for other uses (such as biosurveillance). Moreover, an overarching system that monitors animal health in all species does not exist. The full elucidation of all animal health systems that are operational, identification of areas of surveillance deficit, and the cooperative development of systems to standardize the capture and sharing of animal health information, are required. This will require close cooperation between medical, veterinary, agricultural, and wildlife associations within the country. Animal monitoring is a potentially rich source of data for detection of bioterrorism and other public health threats. As in many other fields of endeavor, money, competition, and politics will greatly influence the outcomes of recent initiatives.

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