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Expert discussion reignites advice for tackling vector-borne diseases

Experts reinforce advice on One Health approach to addressing the spread of companion vector-borne diseases (CVBDs) at recent CVBD World Forum Symposium, hosted by Elanco

21 January 2021, at 2:30pm

Leading experts in veterinary medicine, human medicine and parasitology from 12 countries came together online to discuss the latest data highlighting the growing threat based on the expansion of companion vector-borne diseases (CVBDs) to animal and human health, as well as the need for veterinarians to refresh their approach to tackling these diseases in practice.

Members of the Forum agreed that veterinarians are on the “forefront” of monitoring CVBDs - often the first to be presented with evidence of geographic spread - and emphasised their key role in helping to inform the public thus assisting to protect human, as well as animal health.

The virtual Symposium focused on the theme of “Pathogens Know No Boundaries”. The scientific data presented during the Symposium highlighted how pathogens and vectors are defying traditional boundaries – crossing into new areas and leading to emerging diseases in so far free regions worldwide.

The Symposium focused on Lyme disease – a tick-borne disease that is increasingly reported in many regions worldwide, but especially geographically expanding to free or low incidence areas, going along with an expansion of vector ticks and thus posing a risk to human and animal health. The topic was addressed by scientific lectures focusing on varying aspects of the disease and a roundtable panel discussion which posed the important question: “How can veterinarians around the world be most effective in reducing the disease risk for pets and people?”

Susan Little, Professor in Veterinary Parasitology at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University, said: “It’s part of our role as veterinarians to be concerned about public health as well as animal health, and Lyme disease is just one example in where we can take a practical approach to One Health.”

Climate change and changing tick habitats mean that the distribution of Lyme disease is evolving, resulting in different regional patterns of the disease and an increased incidence in many areas.

Keynote speaker Dr. Jean Tsao, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, described how regional occurrence of Lyme disease in pets in Eastern US is shifting: “The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, which is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, is marching south in the US. We need to continue to monitor the spread of vector populations and learn more about how the interaction between tick genetics and the environment may influence Lyme disease risk.”

Members of the Forum agreed that a One Health approach is key to monitoring changing distributions of tick-borne and other vector-borne diseases, suggesting that veterinarians should implement routine testing and regular collaboration with human doctors.

One delegate suggested that all veterinary practitioners could make it a goal to contact a physician in their area about vector-borne disease at least once in the next year to drive One Health “from the bottom up”.

Prof. Susan Little said: “As veterinarians, we have the tremendous opportunity to use dogs as sentinels to monitor many types of human diseases. Dogs have more exposure to ticks, so we can also find more vectors with the potential to transmit pathogens.”

Furthermore, the role of veterinarians in educating pet owners was discussed. Dr. Ian Wright, head of the European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP), suggested that veterinarians are well placed to advise pet owners on their own tick safety: “Veterinarians shouldn’t be afraid to give basic preventative advice. There is a message to be sent to owners that there’s communal environmental risk and that if they develop relevant clinical signs, a trip to their doctor is worthwhile.”

The experts also suggested using awareness of Lyme disease to talk to owners about other important lesser known CVBDs and advised veterinarians to discuss the importance of parasite prevention in relation to controlling CVBD risk with owners more often.

Dr. Markus Edingloh, Head of Technical Marketing at Elanco, said: “It’s clear that the veterinary profession is crucial in the One Health approach to monitoring, managing and mitigating these diseases. So, we’re delighted that the Symposium discussions clarified the key areas that veterinarians can focus on in practice to better navigate the ongoing evolving CVBD landscape.

“This was a very successful and meaningful CVBD meeting for us as a company due to it being the first time the event has been hosted since the transition between Bayer and Elanco. We look forward to more success with the CVBD World Forum Symposium in the coming years.