The Official Vet Conference was hosted online in 2021 following the success of its new format last year. Hosted by Improve International in association with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), almost 400 delegates registered to join the online conference according to chairman Andrew Carrington, although not everyone was attending at the same time. He welcomed Christine Middlemiss, who has been the UK’s chief veterinary officer since 2018, to open the proceedings, and she highlighted the ABCs of 2021: avian influenza, Brexit and coronavirus.
The four serotypes of avian influenza have had a huge impact on the poultry supply chain, and a great deal of effort has resulted in the country being free of the disease since September 2021. Products of animal origin have required new certification since the introduction of Brexit rules, and the initial difficulties with compliance have now settled down. Coronavirus has hugely impacted the work of the veterinary sector. Surveillance for novel serotypes continues to be highly important, with reporting of disease in kept ferrets being a knock-on effect from disease in farmed mink in other countries. There will continue to be a need for intense scrutiny of all procedures, and the sector was thanked for actively working to overcome many difficulties this past year.
On the profession
James Russell, British Veterinary Association (BVA) senior vice president, expanded on the recent problems surrounding increased workload, veterinary surgeon shortages and the need to develop a new way of working. The combination of COVID-19 regulations and Brexit has introduced enforced change, and the number of EU vets working in the UK has fallen from 750 to 250 individuals. The number of export health certificates issued to the EU has grown from 1,761 in 2020 to 213,988 in 2021, and the number of Official Veterinarians (OVs) qualified to sign these certificates has risen from 600 to over 1,800. The work required of OVs in veterinary practices for exports has reduced time spent on routine work at home.
The combination of COVID-19 regulations and Brexit has introduced enforced change, and the number of EU vets working in the UK has fallen from 750 to 250 individuals
Effort is ongoing to reduce veterinary shortages by improving the retention of veterinary surgeons. In a study mentioned by the speaker, presenting the same CV for a “Mark” or an “Elizabeth” highlighted unconscious discrimination within the veterinary profession. The study also suggested that if a veterinary surgeon believes there is no problem with discrimination, they are more likely to personally discriminate, albeit unconsciously. A quarter of the people assessed indicated that they have experienced or witnessed discrimination, and delegates were recommended to look at the good veterinary workplaces section of the BVA website where supporting information is available.
The mental health of those working within the veterinary sector is being addressed, and it is encouraging that surveys show that 60 percent of vets feel that they are able to recognise mental health issues in a colleague.
Olivia Oginska of Vet Gone Real discussed the development of veterinary workplace well-being, psychological safety and tools to help vets thrive in their career and personal life. All of this was considered within the theme of how fierce compassion and appreciative care can empower you and your team. The delegates were surveyed to establish which is more important in a colleague, cognitive skills or emotional skills. Increasing compassion in the workplace starts with the senior leaders, by realising that every person matters, including them. Olivia also emphasised that if you treat yourself kindly you can be kind to others. Avoiding a blame culture and building on success rather than failure is achieved by taking little steps and a positive approach.
On African swine fever
Delegates were encouraged to look out for hot, sick, red pigs which collapse and die, particularly among domestic pigs that may have contact with wild boar. Leonardo Benito de Valle, APHA veterinary advisor for field delivery, indicated that African swine fever is misnamed because the disease is now widespread across Europe. There is a lack of recording in many countries and farmers are seemingly expected to just “deal with it”. In the UK, there has been one investigation so far in 2021, which had negative results, and a contingency planning exercise was carried out this summer.
Delegates were encouraged to look out for hot, sick, red pigs which collapse and die, particularly among domestic pigs that may have contact with wild boar
There is a need to raise awareness within the veterinary profession, the industry and the public, especially as there is no vaccine for the virus and the organism is stable in meat for 1,000 days frozen, 165 days chilled and 140 days cooked, and is also stable in the environment. In the UK, direct transmission from pig to pig, from wild boar to pig and from pig to wild boar, as well as through aerosol transmission and eating infected meat or fomites, is recognised. Rapid diagnosis, quarantine and slaughter are the control routes.
On tuberculosis, testing and vaccinations
There is a need for trade agreements with other countries to involve UK vets and recognise the high health status achieved within the UK. Work is continuing with the EU Commission. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the impact of zoonoses on society and further development of the One Health agenda is essential, with accurate risk assessments. The introduction of six-monthly tuberculosis (TB) testing and an annual health and welfare visit to farms is expected to exert further pressure on veterinary practices.
TB policy updates
A comprehensive session on TB policy updates was presented by Defra/APHA staff: Claire Wade for England, Dave Harris for Wales and Patricia Touw for Scotland. From September 2021 Defra and Farmcare Solutions will be offering a TB Advisory Service (TBAS) to the whole of England, providing on-farm visits and telephone support for farmers from veterinary practitioners. The service involves all species, including goats and alpacas, with the aim of reducing the severity and length of TB breakdowns at no cost to the farmer. In cattle, 3,095 new herd incidents were recorded in the 12 months to June 2021, with 5.2 percent of herds in England not officially TB free.
From September 2021 Defra and Farmcare Solutions will be offering a TB Advisory Service (TBAS) to the whole of England, providing on-farm visits and telephone support for farmers from veterinary practitioners
It is intended to have no new badger culling licences after December 2022. Instead, lay badger cage-trap vaccinators are to be trained, with a five-year project planned in East Sussex. Investigation of the outcomes in intensive badger cull areas will be carried out by APHA from 2022.
A bovine TB (bTB) Partnership Group has replaced the TB Eradication Advisory Group. Delegates were encouraged to make use of the ibTB website where the bTB history of herds from the past 10 years is displayed. Together with the CHeCS programme, enhanced biosecurity can be achieved by avoiding introducing cattle from at-risk herds.
Breakdowns and testing
The use of gamma interferon testing is increasing and, from July 2021, six-monthly testing within the high-risk area (HRA) has been introduced with enhanced quality assurance of the skin test with an APHA assessment panel. The application of severe interpretation of the skin test is increasing and extended biosecurity advice is offered at the start of a breakdown. However, with persistently infected herds gamma and skin testing does not appear to be identifying all undisclosed infection. So, a pilot scheme utilising the Enferplex technology has commenced. It is suspected that herds may be co-infected with M. avium species.
With persistently infected herds gamma and skin testing does not appear to be identifying all undisclosed infection. So, a pilot scheme utilising the Enferplex technology has commenced
In England 155 herds are currently suffering a persistent breakdown of 12 to 18 months’ duration, while in Wales there were 144 persistent herd breakdowns in the first quarter of 2021, mainly within medium to large dairy herds. The country is experiencing 5.7 new breakdowns per 100 herds tested, with hotspots appearing. This is believed to be due to local disease spread. Within the hotspots there is an increasing use of gamma and IDEXX testing with private pre-movement testing. Cattle from the HRA and edge areas of England and Wales require pre-movement testing but not those from the low-risk area (LRA). This has caused difficulties where the animal has not lived its whole life in the LRA. With post-movement testing the animal stays on the receiving farm until tested clear.
Scotland has approximately 13,000 herds and a risk-based approach means that 60 percent of herds are exempt from four-yearly surveillance testing. Pre- and post-movement testing still applies. The country is officially TB free with a maximum of 0.1 percent of herds infected per annum for six years.
The situation with bTB vaccination of cattle was described by Phil Hogarth. In the 12 months to June 2021, 41,491 cattle were slaughtered, with 30,298 in England, 10,755 in Wales and 438 in Scotland. England and Wales aim to attain eradication of bTB by 2038 and 2036-2041 respectively, but both countries are not on target to achieve these aims.
Field trials are ongoing to achieve marketing authorisation and a roll out of a live attenuated BCG vaccine, together with a test to detect infected among vaccinated animals (DIVA skin test), in 2025. Highly specific antigens are recognised by the immune system from “natural” infection but not in BCG vaccinated animals. A withdrawal period of 90 days following injection is expected with zero milk withdrawal. The targets for the success of the trials are one false positive in 300 animals. Six or more false positives means that a redesign will be required.
Field trials are ongoing to achieve marketing authorisation and a roll out of a live attenuated BCG vaccine, together with a test to detect infected among vaccinated animals (DIVA skin test), in 2025 … The targets for the success of the trials are one false positive in 300 animals. Six or more false positives means that a redesign will be required
Vaccinated animals will still require surveillance tests and the SICCT skin test and the Bovigam blood test will not be applicable. The effectiveness of the vaccine in reducing herd incidence has yet to be defined but it is recognised that the product will not be effective in infected animals. A great deal of work and expertise has been applied to develop the use of a bTB vaccine.
Veterinary surgeons in cattle practice are encouraged to consider how the vaccine can be utilised to best effect within dairy and beef herds. At the South West Dairy Show following the OV Conference, there was discussion by veterinary surgeons and farmers about the TB Advisory Service and the roll out of the vaccination programme. The people involved appeared to be within the HRA and have an intense interest in eradication. One summary was that the available methods are “imperfect tools within a toolbox of imperfect tools”. It was discussed that on-farm management of cattle that pass the skin test but fail a private test may reduce the problem of transmitting undetected disease without increased culling. It appears that the need to utilise private testing, which achieves effective results with individual animals, is an important development for OV training, as the skin test was always considered to be a herd surveillance tool only.
Whatever happens with the pandemic and Brexit, it seems certain that the next OV Conference will include the latest developments with the control of bovine tuberculosis.