African Swine Fever

Hi Readers,

I read an article recently on African Swine Fever and the risk level to pigs in the UK. The article stated that the risk of the disease entering the UK by contaminated pig products has been raised to medium. Romania, Lithuania, Poland and Bulgaria are all countries with confirmed cases of ASF with China also detecting its first case in early August this year.

Several thousand tonnes of Romanian-origin meat per year are sent to the UK from EU member states however in APHA’s latest risk assessment, the risk of exposure to the pig population here in the UK is still said to be low. APHA is assessing the risk to the UK every two weeks and reminding farmers to take precautions such as not feeding swill to their pigs and to ensure visitors to their farms haven’t had any recent contact with affected regions.

As always when articles like this come up, I want to know more about the disease and so I wanted to include more information about the cause and symptoms.

What causes ASF?

African Swine Fever Virus.

It is highly contagious. ASFV can spread very quickly in pig populations by direct or indirect contact. It can be transmitted without or without tick vectors.

After direct contact (without a tick), ASFV mainly enters the body via the upper respiratory tract. In indirect contact, ASFV is spread through soft tick bites.

It is also thought to be spread through fomites such as vehicles, equipment and feed.

What are the symptoms of ASF?

  • High fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weakness
  • Skin that is reddened, blotchy or has blackened lesions
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abortion

Death usually occurs 7-10 days after symptoms are seen. There is no vaccine or treatment for ASF.

References

http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/african_swine_fever.pdf

http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/FastFacts/pdfs/african_swine_fever_F.pdf

http://mrcvs.co.uk/en/news/17676/ASF-risk-level-raised-to-medium-in-the-UK

Smoking and its effects on pets

Hi Readers,

I recently saw a headline on the news which linked smoking and its effects on pets in the home. A study at the University of Glasgow has shown that smoking causes a higher risk of health problems including some animal cancers, cell damage and weight gain after castration.

“We have already shown that dogs can take in significant amounts of smoke when living in a smoking household. Our current study in cats shows that cats are even more affected. This may be due to the extensive self-grooming that cats do, as this would increase the amount of smoke taken in to the body. As an incidental finding, we also observed that dogs living with a smoker owner gained more weight after neutering than those in a non-smoking household.”‌‌‌‌ said Professor Clare Knottenbelt in a study which took place in 2015.

Dr Natalie Hutchinson wanted to extend the research (2017) done by her professor Clare Knottenbelt to look at biological age, to see if being exposed to smoking was making dogs age faster. Of the dogs that took part, approximately half lived in smoking homes and half in non-smoking homes. Natalie collected blood, hair samples and cheek swabs from the dogs. The two researchers also offered free-of-charge neutering, which allowed them to collect spare tissue samples for genetic analysis.

“The main thing we looked at was telomeres, the ‘caps’ on the end of chromosomes,” explains Natalie. “They protect the DNA and they get shorter and shorter as you age. As you age, each time your cells divide, you lose a little bit more.” Although natural they are worried it is happening faster than it should.

She found the telomeres were shorter in blood samples and found traces of nicotine exposure were higher in the dogs who lived with smokers.

We can only suppose that dogs who do age faster could be more likely to get diseases such as cancer or die earlier at the moment as more research needs to be carried out. 

A little more on telomeres…

Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces.

Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.

Telomeres get shorter each time a cell copies itself, but the important DNA stays intact.

Eventually, telomeres get too short to do their job, causing our cells to age and stop functioning properly. Therefore, telomeres act as the aging clock in every cell.

Telomeres can also be shortened by stress, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet. Many scientific studies have shown a strong connection between short telomeres and cellular aging.

For example, the immune system, which normally weakens as we age, is highly sensitive to shortening of telomeres.

I found these articles very interesting and I enjoyed reading about telomeres and their roles as they are something I have not come across before. I hope in the future more awareness will be spread on the effects of passive smoking in pets as I feel it is just as important as the effects in children or other non-smoking adults.

Sol

References

T.A Sciences. 2018. What is a Telomere?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-a-telomere/. [Accessed 16 March 2018].

STV news. 2017. Passive Smoking: How tobacco use could be harming your pet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://stv.tv/news/features/1400013-dogs-found-to-be-victims-of-passive-smoking-in-glasgow/. [Accessed 16 March 2018].

University of Glasgow. 2015. QUIT SMOKING FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR PETS. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2015/december/headline_438291_en.html. [Accessed 16 March 2018].

 

 

Human-Sheep Hybrids

Hi Readers,

I read an article today about a new breakthrough in which human-sheep hybrids have been created for the first time. This is an exciting development as it could be a potential cure for type 1 diabetes – a great example of how veterinary and medicine can work together.

This was a project done at Stanford university where scientists transplanted human stem cells into preimplantation embryos of sheep. The next step is to implant human stem cells into sheep embryos which have been genetically modified so they cannot grow a pancreas, in the hope that human DNA will fill in the missing code.

“We have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats and then transplanted those in to diabetic mouse and were able to show almost a complete cure without any immunosuppressants,” Dr Hiro Nakuachi, who is leading the research, said. He believes that organs grown in animals will be available for transplant within the next five to ten years.

These embryos were allowed to grow for a week before being implanted into a surrogate sheep. Current rules ban labs from allowing the survival of hybrids beyond 21 days, so the surrogate animal was slaughtered after three weeks.

This is the part of the article that caught my attention the most. There will always be ethical implications for example, if the human cells were to spread further than intended, these experiments to grow organs inside the animals could be impossible to approve for ethical reasons. However, I also thought this part of the experiment could be classed as unethical as well – if the sheep was healthy, should it really have been PTS? Of course, the rules must be followed and therefore does this make it ethical, after all it is to advance medical research?

I weighed up the pros and cons of this research:

Pros Cons
6,500 in the UK are on an organ transplant list, and it can take up to five years to reach the top. This research could help with the organ shortage crisis. The article reads “the first stage towards growing an unlimited supply of human organs for transplants and even providing a cure for Type 1 diabetes.” Whilst a cure for Type 1 is important, the wording ‘growing an unlimited supply’ implies we may starting ‘farming’ organs – is this ethical?
Scientists previously hoped pig/sheep organs could be used directly because they are roughly the same size as a human. However they were always rejected. This research gets round the rejection problem because it uses stem cells directly from a human patient. Robin Lovell-Badge (a British scientist most famous for his discovery, along with Peter Goodfellow, of the SRY gene on the Y-chromosome that is the determinant of sex in mammals. He is currently a Group Leader and Head of the Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in Central London) warned the organs may still be rejected by the body. “Even if they succeed in replacing all pancreatic cell types in the sheep with human cells, the blood vessels within the pancreas will be sheep derived,” he warned. “The organs could not be used for transplants into humans without triggering the immune system to reject them – and this would probably be a very fast rejection.”
Using sheep prove much more effective than pigs which have previously been used in similar experiments. Transplanting around 40 to 50 embryos into pig surrogates only leads to up to 14 piglets, while transferring three to four sheep embryos brings yields of up to three foetuses. Should we be slaughtering healthy animals because they carry embryos we have placed inside them? Can we justify this with just ‘for medical advancements’?

I am interested to see the results of this research and to read veterinary opinions on the topic in a few days time.

Sol

References

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/17/worlds-first-human-sheep-hybrids-pave-way-diabetes-cure-mass/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5404287/Scientists-create-human-sheep-hybrids.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Lovell-Badge

Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV)

Hi Readers,

Last month there was an outbreak of Alabama Rot (or CRGV) a few miles from where I live. The local vet diagnosed and confirmed this case. I decided to read up on it when a friend of mine asked if I’d heard of it as she was concerned for her dog. I decided to do a blog post on what I found.

What is CRGV?

The disease causes damage to blood vessels in the skin and kidney. It causes small blood clots to form in the vessels causing blockages and leads to damage of the tissue. In the skin, this causes ulceration. In the kidney, it causes severe kidney failure. It is unknown what causes Alabama rot – which is the most worrying bit! However, there is research being done.

Symptoms of CRGV?

Two thirds develop

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargic
  • Hypothermia (in later stages)

One third develop

  • Lameness

One fifth or fewer develop

  • Jaundice
  • Fever, in initial stages
  • Diarrhoea
  • Red or purple spots on the skin (caused by bleeding from broken capillary blood vessels)
  • Seizures (epileptic)
  • Blood in stools

Rarely dogs develop

  • Vomiting blood
  • Nosebleed
  • Large volume of urine
  • Excessive thirst
  • Lack of muscle coordination and other behavioural changes

If skin changes do occur and are caused by CRGV, many dogs will not develop kidney problems and will recover fully. The number of dogs affected with skin lesions and kidney failure remains low in the UK (56 confirmed cases across the UK between November 2012 and May 2015).

Is CRGV more common at this time of year?

Over the last 3 years, more CRGV cases have been seen between November – May than between June – October.

Where to avoid walking dogs to avoid Alabama rot?

This was one of the things my friend and I were discussing but after some research it appears there is no evidence to suggest any particular environment is more likely to cause CRGV. However, it is possible an environmental factor could cause Alabama rot but more evidence and research is needed to be sure.

Has anyone ever seen this disease before? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sol

References

http://www.coombefieldvets.co.uk/documents/what-is-crgv.pdf

http://alabamarot.co.uk/about-alabama-rot/symptoms-of-dogs-with-confirmed-crgv-alabama-rot/what-do-dog-skin-lesions-look-like/

Are hunting dogs spreading Bovine TB?

Hi Readers,

Whilst reading last month’s issue of ‘Veterinary Record’ I came across an interesting article about hunting dogs and the spread of bovine TB.

In January of this year, 3 cases of Mycobacterium bovis infection was confirmed by APHA. In March bovine tuberculosis was confirmed in a pack of hunting hounds in south-east England leading to the euthanasia of 25 dogs. Anti-hunting groups wanted to stop all hunting with hounds as a precaution, however officials have said there is little risk of bovine TB from hunting packs.

The Animal And Plant Health Agency (APHA) said, “TB in dogs caused by Mycobacterium bovis is very rare. There is no evidence to suggest the dogs play a significant role in the persistence of bovine TB in England and that hunting with dogs contributes to the spread of the disease amongst cattle.”

The dogs, which belonged to the Kimblewick hunt, voluntarily quarantined the dogs even though the government agencies did not impose restrictions.

The League Against Cruel Sports and Hounds Off asked for a strict ban on hunting with hounds as a biosecurity measure and requested an investigation of hunting with hounds and TB spread.

In 2011, research was carried out and the results from post-mortem examinations showed the presence of TB in Irish hunting hounds. This could be additional evidence for a potential risk.

Iain McGill, a former MAFF vet (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) comments that hounds run across fields, defecate on the fields – which is not picked up – eat cow pats and may pick up the bacteria from slurry spread on fields. The biosecurity is poor and to look scientifically, foot swabs should be taken of hounds and their faeces tested.

How the hunt hounds got the disease is not yet known but a possible route could have been consumption of contaminated carcasses or wildlife contamination of the kennel.

A spokesman for the BVA stated, “We are not aware of any evidence of a correlation between hunt areas and bovine TB incidence. We do not think that dogs running over a field present a significant risk of transmission.”

Having read this article I agree that it doesn’t seem that dogs spreading bTB is a huge risk. As APHA stated, the spread of Mycobacterium bovis by hound is very rare and cattle are more likely to contract it from other places. The Anti-Hunting groups may be using this incidence to aid their campaign however they have not produced any evidence to prove there is a significant threat in relation to hounds and the spread of bTB. The number of cases of bovine TB in dogs seems small so far this year.

I would love to hear your thoughts on hunting hounds spreading TB or any comments on hunting in general.

Sol

References 

Veterinary Record Vol 180 No 24

Mental Health in Veterinary Medicine

Dear Readers,

I recently attended a Mental Health First Aid course so I am now a “Mental Health First Aider”. Many people have asked me what this actually means and unfortunately many have also initially thought I wasn’t serious when I told them.

In the veterinary profession mental health is an important part of the vets well being and good mental health results in a much happier lifestyle and enhances performance. This is also applicable to aspiring vets like myself, and our ability to have fun as well as study hard. The most important thing is to find that balance!

It has taken me a lot of time and I have put a lot of thought into how I could phrase this post, however if I could take away one thing from my course it would be to not be afraid of talking about mental health.

Mental health issues affect us as much as physical illness – the biggest problem is the stigma attached to mental health. People fear that if they talk about how they feel they will be pushed aside and thought of as ‘attention seeking’. They may feel as though they won’t get the promotion they wanted or an interview at a company they’ve always wanted to work for, living in fear that someone may find out their ‘secret’ of suffering with poor mental health and think less of them. Yet this attention is what they may well need to show themselves they have enough support around them to deal with whatever it is they’re struggling with. Just because people cannot directly see an illness definitely doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I have looked at some statistics on mental health specifically in the veterinary profession and I found that:

  • 5% of VET STUDENTS wouldn’t want anyone to know if they were suffering from a mental health problem
  • 1 in 4 people in the UK have experienced a mental health problem in the last year
  • According to the results of a 2012 study of veterinary surgeons with a history of suicidal thoughts or behaviour, which was published in Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, half the participants had not talked with anyone about their problems because they felt guilty or ashamed.
  • 24.5% of males and 36.7% of females in veterinary medicine have experienced depressive episodes since leaving veterinary school, which is about one-and-a-half times the prevalence of a U.S. adult throughout their lifetime.

These are difficult statistics to read and I have purposefully left out some of the more shocking data. When attending the course I was asked by a lady “How are you coping with this? You are very young.” I found the comment very interesting, while yes I agree that some of the topics we covered were very profound I feel as though as young adults we are protected from topics such as suicidal crisis and psychosis and we tend to shy away from learning more about them. On the other hand, young people who have suffered with mental health issues may have isolated themselves resulting in the knowledge adolescents and teenagers have of mental health being very limited – perhaps this is the reason even adults believe myths and false information that society has made up about certain mental health conditions as a result of not knowing enough.

Everyone I know has in some way helped another person by listening when something has been bothering them, proving as humans we naturally do care about the feelings and thoughts had by a friend/peer. What we need to change is how we treat the idea of putting a ‘label’ or a name to the certain mental health problems – this label is nothing to be afraid of. Admitting you’re struggling to someone you trust, appears to be half the battle! A friend with a mental health problem is still a friend. The same person you have been friends with for 10 years is still the same person and it is a compliment to you if they feel they can trust you enough to tell you they are struggling with depression, anxiety or any mental health problem for that matter.

One of the important things to note about mental health in this occupation is the raised suicide rate in vets compared with other professions. On this course a lady mentioned she had heard this described as ‘the cowards way out’ or a ‘sign of weakness’. I hope that one day society will believe that the controversial and very difficult topic of assisted suicide in terminally ill people, will be seen as the same reason people chose to take their own lives when they feel their poor mental health is also terminal as they do not feel they could ask for the help and support they desperately need.

Thankfully wonderful organisations such as Mind Matters run by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons exist. They offer training and vet helpline numbers, which clearly shows the support for mental health is developing and increasing and that this area of society is heading in a very positive direction. The Mind Matters twitter page inspired me to look for a mental health first aid course and I have inserted the link to their website below:

http://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-events/news/mind-matters-initiative-new-veterinary-mental-health-and/

Mental Health can still be controversial and people have many different ideas on certain issues. I would very much enjoy hearing your thoughts or am happy for people to get in contact with me if you would like to know more about the course I attended and how to sign up yourself!

Sol

Stats references

http://www.vetfutures.org.uk/download/factsheets/Statistics%20about%20mental%20health%20within%20the%20UK%20veterinary%20profession.pdf

 

https://www.vetlife.org.uk/mental-health/depression/

“Fixing a broken heart”

Hi Readers,

Following a talk I recently had at school on UCAS applications as I start to think about applying to university, an interesting point was raised as a side topic by our guest speaker. He mentioned that zebrafish, a fish of no economic value to commercial fisheries, might help to extend our generations’ lifetime by almost 20 years.

The zebrafish is a special animal to biologists because its body is transparent. Therefore zebrafish are transparent early in their life cycle, so it is easy for researchers to see their hearts and blood vessels grow. Their hearts begin to develop after just 12 hours, and they reach adult size – about 3cm long – in about three months. They can provide research results barely three days later. If researchers modify the fish’s genotype at the egg stage, they can see a change in organ shape or dynamics very quickly.

In this 30-hour-old zebrafish embryo, you can observe developing organs like the retina (R), the brain (B), spinal chord (SC), the muscle (M) and the heart (H).

Heart tissue damage may occur when a person has suffered from a heart attack which affects their quality of life. Understanding what proteins allow human heart cells to multiply and regenerate, as they do in these fish, could help develop drugs that help our hearts to heal themselves.

If a person has a heart attack, the heart tissue lacks blood and therefore oxygen, causing it to become damaged or dead. Zebrafish can repair their hearts, unlike humans – heart muscle cells near the damaged area lose their muscle properties and revert back to stem cells. Scientists know that a protein called Mef2 is needed to turn zebrafish stem cells into heart muscle cells.

Dr Yaniv Hinits and colleagues believe that zebrafish muscle cells near wounds are able to turn Mef2 on and off – turning Mef2 off to revert to stem cells, before growing and turning Mef2 back on to repair the heart. Their team has been awarded a grant to find out if controlling Mef2could be used to treat damaged human heart tissue. They will study Mef2 in detail, find out if it can heal the heart after injury, and test if other proteins thought to influence recovery after heart attack are working through Mef2.

From my understanding, the grant was for three years and started 1st July 2014. I hope we hear some results in a few months time from this promising experiment.

Sol

https://www.bhf.org.uk/get-involved/mending-broken-hearts/research/zebrafish—do-they-hold-the-secret-cure

https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/danio_rerio.htm

http://www.giraldezlab.org/Zebrafish.html

 

Strangles in Horses

Hi Readers,

So after a recent outbreak of Strangles very close to home, I thought I would research this disease in greater detail. Having been aware of the disease for many years now, the necessity of knowing its whereabouts is crucial when caring for my horse.

IMG_3883

 

My biggest fear when hearing about a recent Strangles case is always how contagious it is. As a young child I was always told not to go on public bridle paths when the yard nearby has a case of strangles. However, Strangles is not actually airborne unlike equine flu so I am not sure how effective this piece of advice actually was.

It is a respiratory infection caused by Strep. Equi, which causes depression, loss of appetite/difficulty eating, raised temperature, cough, nasal discharge, swollen glands in throat and rupture of glands with pus visible as symptoms. The disease can be diagnosed by a blood test; some issues with detecting Strangles include its tendency to be mistaken by the common cold or allergies. In severe cases, Strangles can be fatal in 1% of cases when abscesses develop in other body organs which grow and rupture, a form known as ‘bastard strangles’. Another life threatening complication is “Purpura hemorrhagica”. This is widespread small bleeding along with fluid accumulation of the limbs, eyelids and gums. The outer accumulation of fluid can be so extreme that circulatory failure and death can occur.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 16.21.19

From seminars I have attended in farm animal health, the concepts are near enough always the same. If you go out of your way, speaking to the yard owner and educating people on the yard, to prevent the disease entering and infecting your animals in the first place, the hard decisions that come when the disease gets very severe will not have to be made. Prevention is always better that a cure! To try to prevent the disease from infecting an animal a number of precautions can be taken:

  • Avoid contact/sharing tack or equipment with horses whose health status you do not know (e.g at shows)
  • Don’t overcrowd a yard – diseases spread more easily
  • Quarantine horses that come on the yard, care should be taken with who comes into contact with the new arrival and what other animals they have to attend to  
  • If people have arrived from an affected yard, their movement should be restricted
  • Horses should be up to date with their vaccinations

There is also a vaccine to prevent Strangles. The Equilis StrepE is a vaccine that contains the active substance live deletion mutant Streptococcus equi bacteria. This is the first vaccine to be licensed for horses in the EU against strangles. All members should follow a vaccination schedule on a yard to be sure this vaccine is effective and to prevent the closure of a yard.

I would be really interested in any experience you have had with the disease. Feel free to comment below!

Sol

References

http://www.equine-strangles.co.uk/disease-control.aspx

http://www.theodora.com/drugs/eu/equilis_strepe_veterinary.html

http://www.equine-strangles.co.uk/about-strangles.aspx

 

 

 

Marine Mammals – Killer Whales

Hi Readers,

After hearing the news that SeaWorld’s orca ‘Tilikum’, the whale that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, has died I thought I’d blog about the controversial topic of keeping the orca’s in captivity. Having recently applied for work experience at an aquarium, working with sea mammals, I thought the topic would be very relevant.

I suppose the arguments for keeping these killer whales in captivity meant the animals could provide a rare opportunity to do crucial research, and the breeding program at SeaWorld does help with increasing killer whale numbers. The killer whale’s only predator is mankind. Although Orcas are not an endangered species, some local populations are considered threatened or endangered due to pollution, depletion of prey species, conflicts with fishing activities and vessels, habitat loss, and whaling.

However, “If SeaWorld didn’t exist, would our understanding of wild killer whales be significantly reduced? I think the answer to that is no, it would not,” says a veteran marine-mammal researcher who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Furthermore, most animal right activists have said that releasing the orca’s into the wild now that SeaWorld has put an end to its breeding program would not be a wise idea. Most of the killer whales at SeaWorld have live there all their lives and would not survive without human help.

In my opinion, I think breeding programs to increase numbers of these beautiful creatures would be very beneficial, especially as it is our fault for reducing numbers – by whaling or oil spill contamination to their habitats. However, I do agree that the public should get to see these wonderful animals, especially if the money they use to buy a ticket can go towards breeding more of these magnificent creatures. On the other hand, getting them to do tricks and making them act outside of their normal behaviour, perhaps isn’t the way to do it. Unlike the orcas in the ocean, the killer whales in captivity need antibiotics, antifungals, and even antidepressants to maintain their health and well-being. I strongly disagree that this is okay…I believe any animals mental health is as important as ours.

A possibility for these animals could be moving to sea pens, this would allow the orca’s to be in a more natural habitat.

The Keiko example

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 10.20.04

The killer whale featured in the 1993 film “Free Willy” is often cited in the debate over sea pens.

Keiko was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979 and trained to perform at theme parks. Many years later, the orca was transported to a sea pen in Iceland in 1998 after spending several years at a Mexico City theme park. Keiko swam away during a short cavort outside of the pen while accompanied by caretakers on a ship. He later turned up in a deep inlet in Norway and was found playing with children and fishermen. The whale died a few months later of acute pneumonia.

SeaWorld trainers have said the experience showed that sea pens were not a safe environment for orcas. Others countered this view, saying the experience with Keiko taught experts how to build a better sea pen. If better pens can be made that will not allow the whales to get pneumonia, this case study proves that orca’s could survive if transferred from theme parks to sea pens.

I’d love to hear other people’s arguments for and against the captivity of any marine mammal, as well as the orca. Feel free to leave a reply!

Sol

References

http://www.takepart.com/feature/2016/06/14/killer-whales-new-life-after-seaworld

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/12/seaworld-killer-whale-orca-science-blackfish

http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/seaworld-trainer-dawn-brancheau-death/

http://www.killer-whale.org/killer-whales-endangered/

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/teacher_resources/best_place_species/current_top_10/orca.cfm

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seaworld-sea-pens-20160317-htmlstory.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38531967

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 in Europe

Hello Readers,

As most of you I’m sure are aware, there has been a new strain of avian influenza infecting birds in Europe and has recently moved to Wales. I composed some questions that I wanted responses to and did some research into the answers. In the veterinary profession our vets work to ensure human health is taken into account when working towards good animal health.

Where has this originated from?

According to ‘Reuters’ and ‘Fox News’ the first case of the H5N8 strain of avian flu was detected in Denmark on a poultry farm. About one-third of 30 ducks at a farm north of Copenhagen were killed by the same virus that had been found in Denmark in wild birds.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-birdflu-denmark-idUKKBN13G0WI

How is it spread between birds?

Infected birds can shed avian influenza A viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with the virus as it is shed by infected birds. They also can become infected through contact with surfaces that are contaminated with virus from infected birds. Domesticated birds (chickens, turkeys, etc.) may become infected with avian influenza A viruses through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry.

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-birds.htm

How are these strains changing so quickly?

As well as the mutations we are familiar with such as bases being substituted, there is another type of mutation; viruses exchange information with one another. These mutations can occur when different kinds of viruses come into contact with one another in a single host. Hypothetically, for example, a virus that is easily spread from person to person could exchange genetic information with a highly pathogenic strain of avian flu virus, creating a new strain that can be transmitted easily among humans.

The potential for this type of mutation to occur is greatest when there are many opportunities for the virus to multiply—in large flocks with many infected birds. The virus can spread more quickly in crowded conditions, and birds in high-density flocks may be more susceptible to the disease because the stressful conditions may weaken their immune systems.

Viruses have more opportunities to exchange information where these flocks are in close contact with humans or other domestic animals, raising the potential for a human or a pig, for example, to serve as a host for two flu viruses that can exchange genetic information and become more harmful to humans.

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/birdflu/what-you-should-know/q-a/q-a-10 

Will this put human lives at risk?

WHO write “Human infection with the H5N8 virus cannot be excluded, although the likelihood is low, based on the limited information obtained to date. It should be noted that human infection with H5N6 of related clade 2.3.4.4 has already occurred. WHO will re-assess the risk associated with the virus when more information is available.”

In the past:

  • Humans can be infected with avian and other zoonotic influenza viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2)
  • Human infections are primarily acquired through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments
  • Avian infections in humans may cause disease ranging from mild conjunctivitis to severe pneumonia and even death.
  • The majority of human cases of A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry. Controlling the disease in the animal source is critical to decrease risk to humans.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/avian_influenza/en/ 

http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/avian_influenza/riskassessment_AH5N8_201611/en/

Why are people so concerned if the disease infects domesticated birds?

  • the potential for low pathogenic viruses to evolve into highly pathogenic viruses (we do know that this virus, is in fact, highly pathogenic)
  • the potential for rapid spread and significant illness and death among poultry during outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza
  • the economic impact and trade restrictions from a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak
  • the possibility that avian influenza A viruses could be transmitted to humans

http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/avian_influenza/riskassessment_AH5N8_201611/en/

Sol