What private practitioners need to know about controlled- and notifiable diseases.

Author: T Prinsloo [a]

ABSTRACT

The prevention, management and control of controlled- and notifiable diseases are the combined responsibility of state veterinarians, private veterinarians and farmer. Isolation and quarantine is used to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious diseases.  This paper
explains the differences between isolation and quarantine and sets out the purpose and application of isolation and quarantine using some of the controlled diseases as listed under the Animal Diseases Act No 35 of 1984 as examples. It highlights the roles of the different parties involved and also deals with the consequences for transgressors.

 

INTRODUCTION

Protecting livestock from diseases, facilitating market access for livestock and their products and protecting people from food-borne and other zoonotic diseases are all primary functions of Government Veterinary Services1. Do private veterinarians have a direct role to play in this and if so what are their functions and responsibilities? What are the responsibilities of farmers in this regard?

The answers to these questions can be found in the relevant legislation. The Animal Diseases Act2 provides for the control of animal diseases and parasites and the promotion of animal health. The Directorate of Animal Health of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (“DAFF”) and the various Provincial Veterinary Services all function in terms of, and get their authority from this Act. It sets out the functions and powers of the Director and officials as well as the duties of owners regarding the health of their animals. It further provides for requirements for the importation of animals and animal products, animal health schemes, control measures and offences and penalties for offences under this Act.

A controlled animal disease is defined in the Animal Diseases Act2 as a disease for which general or specific control measures has been prescribed as well as any animal disease that does not normally occur in the country. The controlled diseases with the relevant control measures are listed in Table 2 of the Animal Diseases Regulations3. Examples of controlled diseases are: anthrax, brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, foot and mouth disease, rabies and sheep scab. In broad terms controlled diseases are diseases that can spread relatively easily and has far reaching economical consequences or are zoonotic diseases. However, they are capable of being controlled through control measures. The occurrence of these diseases has to be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (“OIE”). If one of these diseases is present in an area, it has international trade implications.

Notifiabale diseases also have to be reported to the OIE and have international trade implications as well. They are simply defined in the Animal Diseases Regulations3 as “diseases specified in Annexure 3”. The most recent list of these diseases names the following notifiable disease: bovine malignant catarrhal fever (“snotsiekte); bluetongue; lumpy skin disease; Rift valley fever; strangles; and swine erysipelas. They are mostly vector-borne diseases and although they can have serious economic and trade implications, they cannot be sufficiently or practically controlled by control measures.

 

ROLE OF PRIVATE VETERINARIAN IN DISEASE CONTROL

Veterinarians are often faced with a dilemma when they become aware of the presence of a controlled disease in a herd or animal of a client but the client does not want to disclose it to potential buyers or other interested parties. On the one hand they are bound to keep client information confidential and on the other hand they feel that they have a moral obligation to prevent diseases from spreading. Since the veterinarian profession is regulated by the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act4 it is the first place where one should look for guidance to solve the dilemma. The Rules relating to the practicing of veterinary professions5 and specifically Part II that deals with the conduct of veterinarians contain a number of principles relevant to this question.

Rule 4(1)(b) stipulates that veterinarians are morally obliged to serve the public to the best of their ability. Note that the word used is not “client”, but “public” which has a much broader meaning. Veterinarians should not allow themselves to be exploited in such a way that it can be detrimental to an animal, client, the public or the profession (Rule 4(1)(d)). If a veterinarian would allow a client to sell an animal with a controlled disease to another person without informing that person, it can be argued that the veterinarian is exploited in a way that is detrimental to the public and Rule 4(1)(b) will be contravened at the same time. Although Rule 13 requires that veterinarians must treat all the information relating to an animal as confidential, there are circumstances set out under Rule 13(2) in which this information may be given. One such instance is when a veterinarian is obliged to do so in terms of another law but also in circumstances where the veterinarian is of the opinion that the public interest outweighs the obligation to the client.

Section 11(2) of the Animal Diseases Act2 compels a veterinarian who finds or suspects a controlled disease to report it to the relevant Veterinary Services immediately. This is a peremptory requirement. Regulation 12A also stipulates that a notifiable disease has to be reported to the relevant State Veterinarian immediately.

Although there is nothing further in the Animal Diseases Act that impose duties on private veterinarians, the Rules relating to the practicing of veterinary professions5 in Rule 4(3) has a general principle that reads as follow: “All persons practicing veterinary professions are working for the same good cause, irrespective whether they are in private practice or in the service of an employer, and they shall therefore co-operate with each other and the authorities concerned to promote the cause.” In light of this, private veterinarians also have a duty to ensure that the requirements of the Animal Diseases Act are followed especially in circumstances where the relevant State Veterinarian is not immediately available or where the private veterinarian becomes aware of transgressions that the State Veterinarian might not be aware of.

 

DUTIES OF THE OWNER OR MANAGER OF THE ANIMALS

Section 11 of the Animal Diseases Act2 imposes specific duties on owners and managers of animals. The scope of the veterinary profession has expanded significantly in recent years and it is not unheard of that veterinarians manage large herds or farms on behalf of owners. These duties would therefore also be applicable to veterinarians who are in these positions.

Owners have to prevent their animals from becoming infected with animal diseases or parasites as far as reasonably possible. They should also prevent the spread of diseases and do what is necessary to eradicate the diseases on the property. This means that they have to ensure that there are proper fences and facilities such as dip tanks and crushes on the property, do the necessary preventative treatment and treat infected or diseased animals appropriately.

If an owner becomes aware of the presence of a controlled or notifiable disease or suspects it, it must be reported to the relevant State Veterinarian immediately. The owner or manager must also inform the neighbours of the incidence or suspected incidence of the disease as well as prospective buyers or people who have recently bought susceptible animals from the farm.

 

CONTROL MEASURES

Typical control measures include vaccination, isolation, quarantine, movement control, specific treatment protocols or restrictions of slaughter. Control measures can be general or prescribed for a specific disease or area. They can be long term measures such as the restriction on the movement of animal and animal product from the foot and mouth disease controlled areas, or be of limited duration such as those applied during disease outbreaks. The purpose of these measures is always to limit the spread of disease and to minimize the impact of the disease. Specific control measures for specific diseases are prescribed in Table 2 of the Animal Diseases Regulations3.

 

Quarantine and Isolation

Isolation and quarantine some of the most feared control measures. These two terms are often used interchangeably by veterinarians and farmers and even in some general dictionaries they are stated as synonyms for each other. However, they do have slightly different meanings in the context of infectious disease control.

The word quarantine originates from the term “quaranta giorni” which means forty days. This stemmed from the practice to isolate ships and people for forty days before entry into a port during the time of the Black Death6. In animal disease control this term is used for the control of animal movements within a country as well as for border control. It is used where animals could potentially have been exposed to a disease, but where there are no signs of disease yet. The quarantine period is usually the same as the incubation period for the disease. Generally speaking all animals imported from outside the Republic will be placed under quarantine in a designated quarantine facility before they will be allowed to go to their final destination.

The term isolation is usually used when an animal is known to have been infected with a contagious disease and are kept apart from other animals to prevent further infection occurring7. An example of this would be where a horse has contracted African horse sickness but is being treated and is kept separate from other horses. However, as already stated, the terms isolation and quarantine are used interchangeably by most people and therefore although the control measures in Table 2 refer to isolation of animals, the term quarantine is usually used for situations where an entire herd or farm is subject to the isolation. Examples of this are the isolation of a herd of cattle where deaths have occurred due to anthrax, or sheep and goats on a farm where sheep scab has been diagnosed. Under these circumstances farms will be placed under quarantine and the farmers will be issued with a quarantine notices.

It is the duty of State Veterinary Services to impose the control measures and enforce them when there are outbreaks of controlled diseases. However, there is a general misconception that it is also their duty to apply these measures. Whilst that was true years ago, the Regulations stipulate that certain acts may be done by or under the supervision of an authorized person. This does not impose a duty on the official to do the work personally, but it does mean that an official may choose to do so when possible or to ensure that it is done properly or be present to ensure that it is executed properly. Often the regulations stipulate that the responsible person must perform certain acts, for example the treatment of sheep for sheep scab. The responsible person is defined in the Regulations as the owner or manager of the animals and therefore the owner or manager are ultimately responsible to ensure that treatment is done in accordance with the Regulations.

 

CONSEQUENCES OF FAILURE TO DEAL WITH CONTROLLED AND NOTIFIABLE DISEASES IN THE PRESCRIBED MANNER

There are two types of consequences when people fail to adhere to the prescribed requirements for controlled and notifiable diseases. The first is the indirect consequences that result when there are disease outbreaks. This would be the case where illegal smuggling or failure to quarantine animals or report a disease leads to an outbreak of a disease that has dire consequences for not only the individual farmers affected, but the whole country. As an example of what a disease outbreak can cost, it is estimated that the 2009 foot and mouth disease outbreak literally cost the country and farmers billions in terms of revenue and additional expenses that had to be incurred.   There are also other permanent consequences such as the addition of another foot and mouth infected zone which permanently influence the agricultural value of the area involved. The indirect consequences are in my opinion the most serious although they almost always go unpunished due to the difficulty to find the culprits or prove their guilt.

There are also punishable consequences for transgressions relating to controlled and notifiable diseases. The Animal Disease Act2 sets out the offences and penalties in Section 32. Unfortunately these penalties have not been updated for years and are often not enough to deter potential transgressors. However, the most serious offences are punishable upon conviction with imprisonment. On the other hand even the relatively small fines imposed for lesser transgressions can act as a deterrent in most communities due to the shame associated with a guilty finding. Unfortunately most people do not take these offences seriously and legal action is seldom instituted.

Veterinarians that are guilty of an offence in terms of the Animal Diseases Act can also be held accountable in terms of the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act.

 

CONCLUSION

Diseases controlled by the Animal Diseases Act are diseases which have potentially serious economical consequences or can cause disease and death in humans. It is therefore in the interest of everyone to ensure that these diseases are controlled properly. Although disease control is one of the main functions of Government Veterinary Services, private veterinarians and animal owners and managers also have significant responsibilities in this regard.   The role of private veterinarians has become far more important in recent years due to the fact that there are not enough State Veterinarians in all the areas but also due to the increased demand for disease control services as a result of the change in different markets such as the massive explosion of the wildlife industry. Farmers can no longer depend on the Government Veterinary Services alone for disease control and must take responsibility for disease control in their own animals and be aware of the serious consequences that it pose for all the role players. Where people refuse to co-operate or continually transgress, legal action should be taken. The fines imposed by the Animal Disease Act should be updated to be in line with the current situation.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Fermet-Quinet E, León E, Punderson J, Stratton J 2013 OIE PVS Evaluation Report of the Veterinary Services of the Republic of South Africa 1-19 October 2012: 1
  2. Animal Diseases Act 35 of 1984
  3. Animal Diseases Regulations: GNR.2026 of 26 September 1986
  4. Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act 19 of 1982
  5. Rules relating to the practicing of veterinary professions: GNR.2086 of I October 1982
  6. Wikipedia Quarantine. Online at: http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Quarantine (accessed 30 April 2015)
  7. Wikipedia Isolation Ihealth care). Online at: http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Isolation (accessed 30 April 2015)

[a] Legalvet Services, PO Box 2682, Kimberley, 8300 E-mail:trudie@legalvetservices.co.za

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