Using technology to help disease surveillance on livestock farms across Wales to avoid and control disease is a step closer.
Part of the award-winning Arwain DGC (Defnydd Gwrthficrobaidd Cyfrifol / Responsible Antimicrobial Use) programme, the Practice Syndromic Surveillance Data Collection Project is led by the Wales Veterinary Science Centre (WVSC) in collaboration with veterinary delivery partner, Iechyd Da.
The syndromic surveillance system collects disease symptom data from a network of vets across Wales. This information enables the health status of livestock populations to be monitored and alerts other vets, farmers and other stakeholders to the possibility of new and emerging (or re-emerging) diseases. Informed decisions can then be made to avoid further spread of disease and implement early treatment options.
An example where syndromic surveillance has been used to good effect was the discovery in Germany and the Netherlands in 2011 of a new cattle disease which was later named Schmallenberg Virus (SBV).
By detecting and responding to health threats early, informed interventions such as targeted vaccinations, biosecurity measures and treatment protocols can be implemented promptly to stop further spread, or even better avoid disease all together.
Early detection reduces the impact of disease outbreaks and helps prevent their spread to other animals or even humans, and reduces the need to for antibiotic use. This, in turn, helps protect animal welfare, public health, and the economy and contributes to the “One Health” approach to human, animal, plant and environmental well-being.
Iechyd Da vet, Robert Smith, said, “The project aimed to explore whether this type of data could be collected from practising vets in Wales, live as they went about their farm visits and to investigate whether this information could be collated and analysed promptly, to provide a workable disease surveillance system for the nation, reduce infectious disease risk and the need to use antibiotics.”
The pilot involved two different methods of data collection, with three practices participating in each of the two pilots. The anonymised data was then sent electronically to the WVSC for collation and further analysis. Nearly a thousand submissions were made during the pilots.
The first pilot was a cow-side method involving a system designed by Farmvet Systems (VetIMPRESS), where the data collected on a hand held, was fed directly into the practice management system.
The second was based on the University of Liverpool’s small animal surveillance system but redesigned for farm animals, FAVSNET. Here vets recorded their work in their usual way, and the relevant data was entered into the FAVSNET system as part of the normal invoicing process back at the practice.
Robert Smith said, “While the quantity of data was insufficient for any significant trends to be established, it did show that up-to-date data collection from farm vets in the field was possible.”
He said the pilots had emphasised that for participation in this type of data collection exercise to increase, the process had to be simple to implement for vets and practices, with minimal disruption to routine working procedures – particularly during busy periods such as lambing and calving.
He said, “With this in mind, we look forward to developing this work further and will be looking at simplifying methods of data collection that will hopefully fit in with normal practice procedures better and therefore encourage more widespread practice participation.
“We also want to look at whether it is possible to collect antibiotic usage data from the visit information inputted by the practices. If we can establish what syndromes seen in practice are associated with high antibiotic use, we can concentrate on these in terms of disease control to reduce antibiotic use.”
Currently, there is a diversity of veterinary practices and with different methods of data collection across Wales. However, Robert Smith said, “By continuing to develop and simplify the processes initiated by the pilot project, the prospect of setting up a network of sentinel practices or personnel up across Wales to collect this important surveillance data becomes more feasible.”
Jon King of the Wales Veterinary Science Centre, said, “It has been pleasing to see data coming in through both systems. It is hoped that through further simplification and more consistency, that more vets and practices will be recruited leading to good coverage over all of Wales, becoming a useful tool for all stakeholders.
“Reduced disease incidence and targeted prevention will then contribute to the reduction in reliance on antibiotics and other antimicrobials and slowing the development of antimicrobial resistance.”