Animal Surveillance: Use of Animal Health Data to Improve Global Disease Surveillance

Karen L. Meidenbauer

Abstract


ObjectiveTo identify gaps in current U.S. animal data collection andsurveillance systems, describe how surveillance of animal populationscan provide important early warnings of emerging threats to humanpopulations from infectious disease epidemics, and explain thebenefits of integrating human and animal surveillance data into acommon linked system.IntroductionSince the majority of emerging infectious diseases over the pastseveral decades have been zoonotic, animal health surveillance isnow recognized as a key element in predicting public health risks.Surveillance of animal populations can provide important earlywarnings of emerging threats to human populations from bioterrorismor naturally occurring infectious disease epidemics. This studyinvestigated current animal data collection and surveillance systems,isolated major gaps in state and national surveillance capabilities, andprovided recommendations to fill those gaps.MethodsInitially, an extensive literary review was performed to betterunderstand what is currently available for Animal Health DiseaseSurveillance in the United States and recognize the gaps. Afterthis review meetings were arranged with numerous animal healthand public health surveillance experts to isolate their surveillancepriorities: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USDA AnimalPlant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), U.S. Army VeterinaryCorps, University Laboratories/Veterinary Teaching Hospitals, TheNational Capitol Region (NCR) ESSENCE Public Health SteeringCommittee, Maryland Arbovirus, Zoonotic, and Vector DiseaseGroup, and the Maryland State Veterinarian.A key animal disease surveillance stakeholder group that hasbeen underrepresented in prior requirements assessments is privatepractitioners. Preliminary discussions with key practitioners revealedclearly that there are monumental gaps in animal health surveillanceand it frequently limits their ability to rapidly respond to potentialdisease risks within their animal population of concern. To betterunderstand these gaps and potential ways to improve surveillance inthis area, a voluntary survey was developed and sent out to membersof the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, Virginia VeterinaryMedical Association, and the District of Columbia Academy ofVeterinary Medicine.ResultsThrough this comprehensive study three current U.S. animal healthdisease surveillance gaps were isolated: integrated human and animalhealth surveillance, real-time animal health data collection, andcompanion animal surveillance.The survey was also well received and had almost 160 participants.Key issues addressed in the survey included: Animal Medical Records– availability, capabilities, and concerns, Zoonotic disease exposureand reporting, and support for development of integrated human-animal disease surveillance tools.Key Findings:- Almost 90% of responding practitioners reported havingencountered a zoonotic disease in practice.- Although less than 50% have reported a zoonotic disease to thestate or federal government.- Almost 70% of veterinarians in the National Capital Region(NCR) who participated in the survey also reported that they do nothave access to a surveillance system.- Veterinarian’s responses to the question: “What is your opinionof the current status of local, regional, or national zoonotic diseasesurveillance and the use of animal data for surveillance?”:“I think it is difficult to find up to date local and regional data.Email alerts etc. would be nice, rather than having to search forinformation that frequently isn’t current.”“I feel that many zoonotic diseases go unreported due to the lackof ease of reporting them and there is no communication betweenthe human and veterinary medical communities as far as reportablediseases affecting both people and animals.”“With the proliferation of tick borne disease, closer surveillance ofanimal cases would benefit human medicine. We knew exactly whenLyme hit our area. It was three years later before VA Dept. of Healthsent out a letter outlining the prevalence of disease in southwest VAhuman cases.”ConclusionsLinking the systems that report human and animal diseases wouldenable health professionals to swiftly identify and respond to zoonoticdisease outbreaks. Since funding for animal health surveillance islimited, integrating animal data into existing, well-established humanhealth surveillance systems would reduce the resources neededwhile still providing the advanced capabilities that are availablefor human health surveillance. The need for integrated surveillancehas been recognized by regulatory officials, but concerns regardingfunding, data acquisition, data confidentiality, and identification ofdesired stakeholders must still be addressed. The sometimes disparateinterests of large industry, private practitioners, and state governmentsmake gaining access to large centralized pools of animal health dataa challenge. By using existing human health surveillance systems asa platform to develop integrated human-animal surveillance systemsand by working with experts in the human surveillance field, theseconcerns can be ameliorated. This would lead to more advancedintegrated health surveillance capabilities and heighten the nation’sability to quickly detect and respond to emerging zoonotic diseases.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v9i1.7737



Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 * http://ojphi.org