Confronting the Challenge

Challenges of Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases. The interaction between human and animal health is not a new phenomenon. However, the scope, scale, and world-wide impact of zoonoses, accosted today have no historical precedent in several world nations.

The new challenges are perpetually transforming our vision and action central to the birth of new epoch of emerging and re-emerging diseases, and the significant potential impact of these on public health domain. The unprecedented impact of globalization, industrialization, restructuring of agricultural systems and allied consumerism, is invariably certain to change the foundation and operations of animal health policies and that how we must consider and prepare for the future.

From the time a new disease emerges until it is detected, a critical time period elapses, which determines the level of exposure of the animal populations and the human society around. The rapid detection of such a new epidemiological upshot is therefore pivotal to the immediate future policies to be formulated.

It is often the case that the disease would have spread undetected for a significant period of time before it is detected and reported. With globalization and the increase in speed and volume of international transport as well as passengers travel, emerging pathogens also begin their pandemic voyage and dispersal.

Fast detection of emerging diseases affecting both animal and human populations at the same time is sluggish in many developing countries and some developed countries on account of possible deficiencies in the veterinary infrastructure, expertise, diagnostic laboratories and in surveillance capabilities as a whole especially for new diseases.

The preparedness and response capability of a country towards an emerging disease largely depend on the availability of such facilities and it is therefore not surprising that methods to control emerging diseases in some developing countries are less effective in animal populations that consequently start taking toll of integrated and consumer human population.

Since all recently emerging diseases are of animal origin, and most of them have zoonotic potential thus necessitating that these diseases need to be addressed through concerted actions between animal and public health authorities that form the crux of OIE concept of one health one medicine.

In this direction, the member Countries of the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) has understandably extended their ardent support for a greater OIE role in confronting the challenges of such zoonoses. This implies cooperation between the three world bodies that are primarily involved by such a challenge – OIE, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) – in order to establish important international linkages.

It can’t be forgotten that the fight against zoonoses starts by eliminating the pathogen at its animal source. This fact provides Veterinary Services, veterinarians, farmers, managers of wildlife and the OIE, with a leading role at both national and international level. Rabies has recently been a cause of grave concern particularly in India which reports about 18 000 to 20 000 cases of rabies a year and about 36% of the world’s deaths from the disease. In Kashmir stray dog bite cases both in humans and livestock have increased many folds over the past one decade leading to fatalities in several cases.

In a shocking revelation in Kashmir, at least 20 persons have died of rabies in the past five years while 80000 cases of dog bites have been reported in the Valley during this period, according to official figures. In June 2018 alone department of community medicine SMHS hospital Srinagar, registered 599 rabies cases.  Quarantine and effective Vaccination of the animal populations against the dreadful diseases affecting humans otherwise harbors the full potential of safeguarding both the interdependent Man-animal horizon.

 Xenobiotic Menace and Human food security concern. Indiscriminate antimicrobial therapy is growingly considered as the major contributing factor in the development of drug resistance in food animals. An undesired consequence of reckless antimicrobial use in animals leading to the development of antimicrobial-resistant food borne microbes that are potential human pathogens entering the human food chain via food animals.

Not only is this, but the other facet of the problem that antimicrobial resistant bacteria are incriminated in several livestock diseases such as Mastitis, Respiratory and Urogenital infections, exposing animal health to serious economic fall outs.

In order to help address this concern, there is a rabble-rousing urge to develop Food and Drug screening centers for food animals in order to establish guide lines regarding Veterinary Medicine and therapeutics to enforce Antimicrobial Resistance monitoring system (ARMS).

The strategy requires to be aimed at ascertaining the effect of antimicrobial use in animal agriculture on the evolution of antimicrobial resistance in human clinical bacterial isolates. This would help to inform physicians, veterinarians, and public health authorities on anti-bacterial drug resistance levels, including new or atypical patterns of resistance.

Thus not only epidemiology and bacteriology of emergence of bacterial resistance could be better understood, but development of public health recommendations on the use of antimicrobial drugs in food animals and humans would become mandatory.

India is a vast agricultural country but drug regulatory laws in food animals are either lacking or not stringently employed. Food borne infections in human subject are widespread coming directly from animal food sources. The milk for instance in our markets might be the commonest source of xenobiotic residues from anthelmintics, antibiotics, NASAIDS and steroids used in milk producing animals. Discarding of milk, during drug therapy for standard withdrawal time period prior to entering into market, unfortunately, is not quite in vogue, as per the Veterinary public health standard.

This is perhaps because of an unorganized open field animal rearing by marginal farmer community particularly in the agro-pastoral conditions specific to Kashmir, rather than organized livestock farming. It is thus obligatory for veterinarians to focus on necessary education of livestock farmers regarding possible health hazards of drugs administered to food animals, on the consumer human health and thus observance of a mandatory withdrawal period. 

Judicious and well-timed use of antimicrobials at proper intervals for full therapeutic duration is a professional obligation of Veterinary medical practitioners to ensure full advantage from such a therapeutic regime, necessarily to be followed by observing a proper withdrawal period, before the livestock product enters market.

Use of antibiotics by non-professionals and Paravets is often irrelevant and indiscriminate, aimed at achieving fast recovery of the suffering animal. Doing so, antibiotics are off and on changed to treat the single disease of an animal, which is akin to induce antimicrobial resistance in human health domain through the animal products. Our responsibility is even greater, since we are deemed to be related to the safety and optimization of human health through safety and optimization of livestock health.

Dr. Muzaffar Shaheen is a Professor At SKUAST-K