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Contributions of veterinarians to public health

BY: Drs Alfred Adjiri-Awere, Bernard Enyetornye, Obed Danso Acheampong, Richard Abbiw, Boateng Kwadwo Yeboah, Jeffrey Bondzi Wi-Afedzi, Dominic Osei
Vertinarians attending to a goat
Vertinarians attending to a goat

The public health contribution of veterinary medical doctors is called ‘Veterinary Public Health’. The COVID-19 pandemic has rightly created panic among the general population.

This has got animal owners perturbed about the role of their pets or farm animals in the transmission of the virus. They wonder if their pets or farm animals could get the virus.

It is quite certain that the recent news of the two dogs (from Hong Kong) and one cat (from Belgium) that got infected with COVID-19 heightened this dilemma. However, certain controversies surrounding the cat, as well as the recovery and death of the 17-year-old dog, still leaves us uncertain.

Nevertheless, most scientists seem to support the notion that animals are exempt from COVID-19 infection.

While the above appears to be great news, and this is where it gets tricky, the virus is spread by fomite (surfaces that can carry germs) too.

Since the fur and skins of pets and farm animals are considered fomites or surfaces, it is not far-fetched to assume that these animals can help in the human-to-human or animal-to-human spread of the infection even if they do not come down with the disease.

One must be quick to add that, while this is a possibility, not a single case has been confirmed by any research institute as at the time of this publication.

What to do

Before listing some of the things to watch out for and do, it is imperative to understand that neglecting farm or pets out of panic is wrong and must not be considered even in the rare chance that you come down with the disease.

Animals, in these times, are a great sources of comfort and companionship and can help us all distress, especially during lockdowns.

To ensure that animals are safe during the crisis, the following, which are very normal, can be considered:

• Reduce the number of walks for pets to once a day. Do not forget to maintain a distance of about two meters between you and others. People confirmed positive with the COVID-19 should ask another person to walk and take care of their pets. If you are in a locked-down area, avoid walks altogether.

• Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands before and after handling your animals, their food and wastes. Bath pets after long walks.

• Limit the transportation of animals.

• Join the telemedicine wagon. If you are worried that your animals are not feeling too good, just contact your veterinary medical doctor and explain in as many details with the utmost honesty as possible what you see wrong with the animal.

The vet doctor will then advise you on what to do and where necessary will arrange a meeting with you. Please do not visit the vet •For pet owners, this is the time to attempt teaching your pets new tricks. I bet it will be fun.

Message

The ethical truth is that for our country to survive the aftermath of the pandemic, farmers cannot abandon their animals!

We know that the pandemic might make it uneasy for the country to import animal and animal products from other countries who might need it too.

However, this responsibility conferred on you does not make you immune to the infection. Therefore, owners of pet and farm animals are entreated to be cautious in their dealings.

You can consider the following in your daily dealings:

• Call the vet as often as you can.

• If you have accommodation on the farm, let the farmhands stay there until this is over.

• Consider the use of trusted delivery services in acquiring food and other farm supplies.

• Intensify biosecurity measures: footbaths, farm restrictions, regular disinfection, regular laundry of protective clothing just to name a few.

Veterinary medical team

While you have a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the animal industry, you are to do so with maximum precaution.

This is by no means encouraging you to either abandon your oath or get your Messiah-complex on. Instead, be open to give free advice and directions to clients where necessary.

You can adopt an approach, by which conditions are attended to, based on its categorisation as essential or non-essential.

And read more from trusted sources as often as possible to understand the current guidelines for handling yourselves.

Remember that these guidelines are still valid after the pandemic as they are normal guidelines within the concept of ‘One Health - One Medicine’ in preventing animal diseases and diseases shared by both animals and humans (zoonoses) (e.g.,anthrax, tuberculosis, salmonellosis/typhoid, brucellosis, leptospirosis, rabies, swine flu, trypanosomiasis/sleeping sickness) and diseases from rodents to humans (e.g., Hanta virus infection) and horses to humans (e.g., Hendra virus infection) and monkeys to humans (e.g Ebola and monkey pox).

The article was written by the veterinarians Drs Alfred Adjiri-Awere, Bernard Enyetornye, Obed Danso Acheampong, Richard Abbiw, Boateng Kwadwo Yeboah, Jeffrey Bondzi Wi-Afedzi, Dominic Osei.