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Do animal diseases impact humans?

Animal Health with Roy Lewis: COVID-19 is an extreme example of disease transmission between animals and humans known as zoonosis

Protective equipment and good cleaning protocols go a long way in preventing the spread of disease.

Not one animal-borne disease in recent memory has affected our lives more than COVID-19. There are lots of other diseases ranging from more minor ailments such as ringworm, to those that have major consequences such as toxoplasmosis or echinococcus (alveolar hydatid disease). Detailed descriptions can be found on line, but both can be very serious. At the same time the risk can be reduced or prevented through common biosecurity strategies.

Cleaning up, washing hands, avoiding oral ingestion, in some cases boot dips and changing clothes or using coveralls or lab coats all go a long way to preventing the disease spread. With decreased biosecurity people run the risk of contracting the organisms as well as spreading them around.

COVID-19 has taught us these proper hygiene measures that livestock producers have applied for some time as biosecurity measures, can be effective in preventing disease spread.

The high health swine barns and poultry operations, for example, where people shower in and out when they enter and leave facilities is another example of biosecurity measures being used on farms that would surprise much of the general public.

It is important to recognize too that veterinarians play an important role in the agriculture industry as being part of the team that helps produce high quality, safe, nutritious, production animal protein.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was great that veterinarians along with agriculture workers, grocery store and transportation people were all recognized as essential services. It gives a person a good feeling.

Along with working with meat producing animals, veterinarians also play an important role in the health of pets and companion animals, which contribute greatly to human wellbeing and emotional health.

The essential services have carried on during the pandemic with on-line consultations along with curbside pickup of pets and supplies. In some veterinary practices proper procedures have meant splitting the clinic staff into two teams so that at least emergency and essential services could be maintained on the farms.

More than pulling calves

It was funny to hear, in some official announcements about veterinary services that one of the jobs veterinarians are still highly recognized for is “pulling calves.” That seems to get more attention, even though preventative medicine, reproduction, animal welfare, biosecurity, production issues and food safety are much more commonly dealt with than calving difficulties anymore. The fact is with good breeding programs, proper bull selection and heifer breeding the vast proportion of calving difficulties have been eliminated.

With proper planning COVID 19 protocols haven’t had a huge impact on veterinary care. Most producers have kept on doing what they are doing, staying in their own rural on-farm bubble much like they usually do in the fall or spring.

Trips to town have been minimized and animal health supplies can often be brought to the farm by your veterinarian on the herd visit.

Since the removal of over-the-counter antibiotics sales except from veterinary clinics, the affects have been very very positive. Producers quickly realized that veterinarians are working hard to use less antimicrobials by all the preventative vaccination and management changes, which helps to reduce stress and sickness in cattle. Costs of antimicrobials have dropped because of competition, less usage and access to more generic products. More and more products in convenient formulations such as oral dewormers and pour on pain killers have made for problem free administration. And with more antimicrobials being packaged in plastic bottles there has been less breakage and wastage.

All of these changes above and more have made it pretty easy in most cases to establish the necessary veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR).

Timely advice, reminders and advancing each herd’s profitability and productivity are goals most veterinarians strive for on behalf of producers. If the beef producer does well the whole agricultural supply chain should do better. Everyone involved in agriculture should have job security because at the end of the day people still need to eat.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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