Data collection for risk assessments on animal health

The European Union (EU) is constantly under the threat of introducing new animal diseases in its territory. The changing distribution of arthropod vectors can create the conditions for vector-borne animal diseases to enter and spread across the EU, with variable speed, depending on the epidemiology of each disease.

Several vector-borne diseases (VBDs) and infections have entered or re-entered the EU in recent times (e.g. bluetongue, West Nile fever and Schmallenberg virus) and the introduction routes have not always been identified. The list of vector-borne diseases, including the most relevant zoonoses, which could enter the EU and become endemic could be rather long, and their likely impact vary in significance. Therefore, these hazards need to be identified and ranked in relation to the risk they represent for the EU.

In 2014, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) received a mandate from the European Commission to assess the risk of introduction of new vector-borne diseases and to determine if further measures are needed. If these diseases were to enter the EU, the possible potentially devastating effects need to be evaluated. Current control measures need to be considered when identifying and ranking the documented and likely entry routes into the EU. The outcome of this work will assist the Commission in prioritising the use of resources for preventive actions in the field of animal diseases. A list of vector-borne pathogens was agreed with the EU Commission, for which the risk of entry, transmission, establishment and persistence in the EU needed to be assessed by EFSA.  

Flavie was very pleased to contribute to the literature review presented in the data collection for risk assessments on animal health (DACRAH) final report, recently published and freely available via EFSA. Along with co-authors, she provided a systematic compilation of published literature on experimental infections, virus survival, diagnostic, vaccines and treatments concerning VBD agents that present a risk for the EU.

Where exactly are we with animal health syndromic surveillance?

Fernanda Dórea’s 2011 paper entitled “Veterinary syndromic surveillance: Current initiatives and potential for development” was not only one of the most highly cited paper in the field, it also marked the advent of a new research field emerging only a few years earlier, and roused considerable interest in the veterinary public health community, with many people, including myself, publishing dozens of papers on the topic in the following 5 years.

I was very honoured to be approached by Fernanda earlier this year to write the follow-up story from her 2011 review paper and assess how the field had progressed since then. Our open-access joint paper has recently come out in the journal Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports.

I thought long and hard about what the best way of summarising all the advances in the field might be and then I decided that the easiest way to visualise most of the paper’s take-home messages could be through an infographic! Back in June I had played a little bit with infographics using the free online software Piktochart. This time, I decided to trial a new software and used Canva. So, here’s what has happened to the field of animal health syndromic surveillance in the last 5 years:


Producing this infographic was such an interesting exercise, trying to extract the essence of the paper and distill it in a very limited amount of space, and in a way that should be understandable to non-experts. In general, I think that we, researchers, need to make more of an effort to communicate our science/results to as wide an audience as possible. Not only is this some sort of accountability, after all publicly funded research comes out of tax-payers’ pockets whom should be kept informed of how it is spent, but it also helps fellow scientists keep abreast of the development in their wider research field when they have ever less time to sit down and read full papers. I think producing and distributing a nice infographic at the same time as your research paper is published is a nice way to advertise your achievement, grab the attention of the press or social media and potentially bring more readers to your papers. And we all know that more readers mean more citations…

As such, I will start to advertise this service more widely. Help me spread the word!

At Epi-Connect, we are experts in data analysis & visualisation and we can help you write your story. All you need to do is to fill in this contact form , and we’ll take care of the rest!

If you liked this infographic and would like to show it to others, please share to your heart’s content using the buttons below.



Interactions between domestic and wild carnivores and the potential for pathogen transmission

The interface between wild and domestic carnivores is an understudied, yet critically important area for animal conservation, due to carnivore intraguild competition and multihost disease dynamics.  However, carnivore intraguild interactions are notoriously hard to quantify.

A novel study recently published in the journal Animal Conservation by Meggan Craft, Eve Miguel, Sarah Cleaveland, Andrew Ferdinands, Craig Packer and myself focuses on new methods to infer interaction risks between domestic and wild animals, specifically at the peridomestic interface around a well known protected area, the Serengeti Ecosystem. We found that social surveys were a useful tool for obtaining data on carnivore interactions as well as providing a direction for future targeted and in-depth research to reduce interspecific conflict.

Showing children photos of wild carnivores that might be found in their area after a household social interview to investigate domestic and wild carnivore interactions © Andrew Ferdinands.
Showing children photos of wild carnivores that might be found in their area after a household social interview to investigate domestic and wild carnivore interactions © Andrew Ferdinands.

We asked 512 villagers residing around a conservation area in the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania, to report on the presence of wild carnivores in their village, the number of domestic dogs and cats  in their household and interactions between domestic and wild carnivores.

Study area, including locations of protected areas and surveyed households.
Study area, including locations of protected areas and surveyed households.

Wild carnivores are abundant near households surrounding the Serengeti National Park, villagers have many free-ranging domestic dogs (and would like to have more) and direct and indirect contacts between wild and domestic carnivores are common. Large carnivores, such as spotted hyenas and leopards, often killed or wounded domestic dogs. Small carnivores, such as mongoose, bat-eared fox, serval and wildcat, are locally abundant and frequently interact with domestic dogs.

Semi-quantitative assessment of interactions between domestic dogs and wild carnivores in agropastoralist (West) and pastoralist communities (East). See full article for species code.
Semi-quantitative assessment of interactions between domestic dogs and wild carnivores in agropastoralist (West) and pastoralist communities (East). See full article for species code.


We demonstrate that interspecific carnivore behavior, human culture and local and regional geography play a complex role in domestic and wild carnivore interaction risk around conservation areas. Improving the health and husbandry of domestic animals and reducing the unintentional feeding of wild carnivores could reduce dog–wildlife interactions and the potential for pathogen transmission at the domestic–wild animal interface.

Domestic dog injured by a honey badger at household premises in a village around Serengeti National Park © Andrew Ferdinands
Domestic dog injured by a honey badger at household premises in a village around Serengeti National Park © Andrew Ferdinands

These results have broad interest and international relevance, as domestic dogs are the world’s most ubiquitous carnivore, human and domestic animal populations are expected to increase, and buffer zones between domestic and wild animals are expected to decrease.

Badgers, bovine TB, culling…it’s mostly bad news

TB testing. Image from Farmers Weekly
TB testing. Image from Farmers Weekly

New Epi-Connect publication

Bovine tuberculosis is an important disease affecting the UK livestock industry. Controlling bovine tuberculosis (TB) is made more complex by the presence of a wildlife host, the Eurasian badger, Meles meles. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which was designed by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) and ran between 1998 and 2006, investigated how bovine TB spread between cattle, badgers and other wildlife. The trial took place in 30 areas of approximately 100km2  , grouped into 10 sets of three, known as ‘triplets’.


Repeated large-scale (“proactive”)badger culls implemented in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) were associated with decreased cattle risks inside the culling area, but also with increased bovine TB risks up to the 2km outside the culling area. Localised (“reactive”) badger culling was shown to increase the incidence of bovine TB inside the culling area (Donelly et al. 2006).

In an open-access paper recently published with PLOS ONE, Jon Bielby, Christ Donnelly, Rosie Woodroffe and I used used a matched-pairs case-control study design to the spatial scale over which reactive badger culling had its biggest impact. We found that reactive badger culling significantly increased the risk of bovine TB at distances of 1-3km and 3-5km from the culled area, and that no such association existed over shorter distances (<1km).

Our findings are consistent with the spatial scale of changes to badger dispersal (up to and over 5 km) in response to repeated culling (Pope et al. 2007), and the increase in badger TB infection prevalence observed in response to localised reactive culling (Woodroffe et al. 2009).

We show that localised badger culls had significant negative effects, not on the land on which culling took place, but, perhaps more importantly, on adjoining lands and farms, highlighting how relatively localised, moderate reductions to badger density can lead to landscape-level effects of considerable size. We stress the importance of considering the broader impacts within and upon the farmed landscape when considering implementing badger culling as a method of controlling the spread of bovine TB.

Call open for Special edition of Frontiers in Veterinary Science

We are very excited to announce that the call for contributors on the special research topic we have put forward with Marisa Peyre (CIRAD, France) and Luis Nero (UVF, Brazil) is now officially open on the website of Frontiers in Veterinary Sciences.

Slaughterhouses as Sources of Data for Animal Health Intelligence

The aim of this research topic is to foster discussion on animal health intelligence opportunities offered by slaughterhouse surveillance, its limitations, as well as the types of control actions that may be triggered or promoted in both developing and developed countries.

With their unique mixes of varied contributions from original research to review articles, research topics unify the most influential researchers, the latest key findings and historical advances in a hot research area!

We are actively looking for contributors to this exciting publication!

Find out more on how to contribute as an author by clicking here.