Having to deal with the impacts of climate change, while mitigating impact on the environment. Facing never-before-seen animal diseases in Europe like Lumpy Skin Disease and African Swine Fever. Responding to increased demands for sustainable livestock farming and better animal welfare. Addressing the rise of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and preserving the efficacy of treatment options for future generations. All these challenges mean one thing: we must do more to prevent diseases in animals from the outset.
Responsible treatment of illness in animals will always be necessary, that has to be clear. But as we look at challenges, the focus for the animal medicines industry is increasingly shifting to disease prevention and animal resilience as well as smart monitoring and earlier diagnosis to facilitate better interventions to improve animal health.
The value of vaccination
Vaccination has profoundly influenced and improved world health, and will continue to be a fundamental tool to meet future health challenges. Vaccines have helped to eliminate rinderpest in animals and smallpox in people, and the continued use of vaccines can help to control many other health scourges.
When farmers take preventive measures such as vaccination, this makes for good farm management ensuring healthier herds and helping to make food production more efficient and sustainable while reducing food losses at source. Protecting animals from disease through vaccination also prevents transmission and slows further spread. Working together, industry and authorities can respond rapidly to halt or slow transmission of existing and newly emerging diseases, such as Lumpy Skin Disease in cattle which was recently halted in south-east Europe, largely thanks to a regional vaccination programme.
From a One Health perspective animal vaccination plays a role in wider public health. Successful animal vaccination programmes and the EU pet passport system for example mean that today the vast majority of EU member states are recorded as rabies-free. Vaccinating dogs protects the dog from getting rabies and also blocks the major route of transmission between wildlife and people.
And medical advances over the years have meant that one single vaccine injection can incorporate more than one disease or disease strain to provide combined protection against several strains of micro-organisms or several diseases. Use of modern technologies also make it easier to control and eradicate disease without having to slaughter healthy animals, by making it possible to differentiate vaccinated animals from infected animals.
Alongside vaccination, efficient biosecurity is an important measure to prevent animal illness. Some simple steps involved in biosecurity can often be misunderstood by the general public and so it is important to raise awareness on the many benefits for animal welfare brought by such elements as indoor housing. In fact, biosecurity is a holistic concept with direct relevance not only to the sustainability of livestock farming, but also to wide-ranging aspects of public health, such as food safety, and protection of the environment, including bio-diversity.
Biosecurity refers to practices used to prevent both the introduction of and the spread of diseases within a farm. Disease can enter farms either directly via infected animals or indirectly through contaminated equipment or footwear. As such, farmers can include a number of different elements in their farm management plans, ranging from: hygiene measures and regular housing disinfection; quarantine periods for new animals and vaccination for specific diseases; disinfection of farm visitors and provision of protective clothing and footwear; keeping other domestic and wildlife animals away from feed bins, pasture and water sources; as well as an annual review of biosecurity plans with the veterinarian.
Bringing prevention into the digital age
Vaccination and biosecurity are key elements of good animal husbandry that go hand-in-hand with good nutrition and health care. In today’s digital age the animal medicines industry is investing in data-driven solutions to provide a higher level of insights into the health of both livestock and companion animals.
From the livestock perspective in particular, farmers, companies and even national governments can use big data to manage millions of animals in Europe and around the world. By putting actionable disease data into the hands of international organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) or the EU institutions, outbreaks can be controlled and contained where possible in a more timely manner. And putting actionable animal management information into the farmer’s hands, means they can act rapidly together with their vets to safeguard their animals’ health and wellbeing, while achieving optimal production outcomes for a healthy and sustainable food supply.
Vets, farmers and all animal owners should look to the future with prevention top of mind, using the full range of tools available, such as vaccines, diagnostics, digital monitoring, etc. to protect our planet, and safeguard both its animal and human populations, for the next generations to come.