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In the recent past, the emergence of animal-borne diseases (zoonoses) has been pervasive, particularly in metropolitan areas (Swabbe 2005, p. 14, para. 3). Aenishaenslin defines zoonoses as ‘infectious diseases arising from the interaction of human populations with animals and the environment’ (Aenishaenslin 2013, p. 11, para. 1). Moreover, Salyer et al. identified that ‘75% of emerging infectious organisms pathogenic to humans are zoonotic in origin’ (Salyer, 2014). Indeed, this is irrevocably linked with unsanitary hygiene practices surrounding animals, especially amidst circumstances where there is frequent interaction between domesticated animals and their owners. Subsequently, this epidemic has been observed to be particularly prevalent amidst city dwellers due to a budget that enables indulgence in additional members to their domiciliary (Oriss 1997, p.3, para. 4). Moreover, pets can potentially carry infectious agents such as; bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that can be transmitted to humans through dander, saliva or faeces (The University of Sydney 2013, p.1, para. 5). Naturally, the prime question is raised; what is the viability of existing societal efforts to combat zoonotic diseases? This is, in particular, significant due to social dependence on domesticated animals, its subsequent implications, and communal resistance to acknowledging the potential nocuous repercussions of having pets (Glynn, p.2, para. 5). Consequently, it is asserted that of the challenges associated with domestic animals in public spaces, zoonotic illnesses require the utmost attention due its potentially fatal repercussions. Therefore, in what follows, current management and implications of zoonoses will be expounded upon, and suggested methods to reduce morbidity rates will be appraised to elucidate society’s efficiency in responding to these challenges.
A challenge associated with sharing public spaces with animals is the transmission of infection, which requires owners to be vaccinated to ensure protection. Pet owners are encouraged to ensure that they themselves are vaccinated, however, its efficiency is mitigated due to polarising views on the ostensible inoculation that it imposes. Historically speaking, vaccinations are undoubtedly acclaimed to propagate a safer, healthier community, and is marked as the most effective method in combatting infection (Zinsstag 2007, n.p., para. 3). To heighten this notion, The World Health Organizatio (WHO) indicates that in communities where there is a higher proportion of vaccinated individuals, the rate of zoonotic diseases decreases by 43% (Zinsstag 2007, n.p., para. 7). However, the benefits of immunizations are most evidently seen (and is essentially limited to) when herd immunity is achieved. Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when a significant proportion of a population (or herd) is vaccinated, and thus provides a level of protection for unvaccinated individuals or those who have compromised immune systems (Anderson 1990, p. 3, para. 3). As such, this management technique of zoonotic illnesses is heavily reliant on societal willingness towards vaccination, and is thus, fallible. Evidently, efforts need to be shifted towards maximising communal inclination towards vaccination, and resultantly, increasing social security against fatal illnesses. This is especially since social awareness in regards to zoonotic vaccines are fairly minimal (Streefland 2001, p. 9, para. 2). On this note, in regards to immunization coverage in Australia, government-funded vaccinations mean low vaccination rates primarily stem from misconceptions, or rather, a lack of knowledge, of the benefits of vaccinations (Streefland 2001, p. 1, para. 7). Subsequently, ‘societal resistance,’ as aforementioned, has been found to be primarily due to the ‘possession of incorrect knowledge that distorts their perceived risk of vaccination’ (Denovan, 2011). This is especially pertinent because the proportion of unvaccinated individuals is remarkably comprised of adults. As corroboration, in a study conducted by the WHO, ‘of 4.1 million unvaccinated Australians, 92 per cent (3.8 million) are adults, and only a small fraction are children’ (MacIntyre 2017, p. 5, para. 4). As demonstrated, this is especially detrimental to health security because as MacIntyre typifies, ‘adults contribute substantially to ongoing vaccine-preventable diseases’ (MacIntyre, 2017). This is exemplified as ‘48% of all cases of measles that occur in Australia are in those aged 19 years or over’ (Denovan 2011, p. 11, para. 2). Nonetheless, adults’ apprehensive stance towards vaccination may be inherited by their children, and ultimately, transform the healthcare dynamic that is currently relied upon to evade fatal zoonoses. Consequently, shifting sceptical views harboured by society regarding vaccines, specifically by adults, is not only a vital response to zoonoses, but more broadly enhances health security.
An imminent implication of zoonoses is its economic detriment upon society and to the cost of health care. In the case of a zoonotic epidemic, the pet and its owner are not the only victims of this scourge, it has large scale economic repercussions that will be discussed in what follows. For instance, a case study conducted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that ‘it can affect entire sectors of the livestock industry and reduce human capital’ (Fao.org 2018, p. 5, para. 3). This is depicted in a study conducted by WHO, in which it is estimated that ‘the avian influenza reduced chicken meat production by over one third in China, and that the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which originated in Mexico, infected over 100 million people with a death toll of about 20 000’ (Fao.org 2018, p. 3, para. 6). However, due to limitations in the ‘current zoonotic disease information system,’ the United Nations’ Ministry of Health and Agriculture finds it ‘challenging to generate accurate estimates of the incidence and prevalence of zoonoses, to assess their impact on society, and to measure the benefits of programmes and investments for their prevention, management and control’ (Fao.org 2018, p. 4, para. 1). In other words, there is a lack of structured management and framework in designating public resources to combat zoonoses adequately (Fao.org 2018, p. 3, para. 2). Patently, there is an accelerating call for relevant institutions to curate a defined action plan, within which the economic impact is accurately considered and estimated, and hence, can be appropriately managed. Further, there are costs to the public and private health system, which can overwhelm and eventually exhaust medical resources, inhibiting its ability to manage common health problems that increase susceptibility to emerging epidemics – thus, exacerbating the problem (Bloom 2018, p. 3, para. 6). Ahead of precipitating a volatile health sector, Bloom implies that ‘epidemics force both the ill and their caretakers to miss work or be less effective at their jobs, driving down and disrupting productivity’ (Bloom 2018, p. 8, para. 6). Additionally, erupting apprehensions of infection may result in ‘closed schools, enterprises, commercial establishments, transportation, and public services—all of which disrupt economic and other socially valuable activity’ (Bloom 2018, p. 9, para. 3). Moreover, unease over the extent and/or widespread of even a relatively isolated zoonotic outbreak can result in reduced trade (Bloom 2018, p. 11, para. 2). This is illustrated in ‘a ban imposed by the European Union on exports of British beef lasted 10 years following identification of a mad cow disease outbreak in the United Kingdom, despite relatively low transmission to humans’ (Bloom 2018, p. 3, para.11). Evidently, the economic risks of epidemics are anything but arbitrary, and as such, would hardly differ in the case of a zoonotic outbreak. Even if the health implications of an outbreak are somewhat contained, its economic impact can hastily become amplified. As insinuated by Bloom, ‘Liberia, for example, saw GDP growth decline 8 percentage points from 2013 to 2014 during the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, even as the country’s overall death rate fell over the same period’ (Bloom 2018, p. 3, para. 9).’ Moreover, the adverse aftermath of epidemics is not distributed proportionately across the economy (Bloom 2018, p. 3, para. 9). Some sectors may even reap financial benefits, such as ‘pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccines, antibiotics, or other products needed for outbreak’ (Bloom 2018, p. 10, para. 5). On the other hand, ‘Health and life insurance companies are likely to bear heavy costs, at least in the short term, as are livestock producers in the event of an outbreak linked to animals’ (Bloom 2018, p. 3, para. 3). Likewise, Vulnerable populations, particularly those of a lower socioeconomic background, are among those likely to suffer disproportionately, ‘as they may have less access to health care and lower savings to protect against financial catastrophe’ (Bloom 2018, p. 5, para. 8). Therefore, the economic detriment of society amidst outbreaks and epidemics act as an exemplary for zoonoses, and thus alludes to the financial tumult that can ensue as a result. Thus, as explained, the economic penalty of zoonotic infections is as dire, if not more, than the biological ramifications. So, akin to management of other types of risks, the economic risk of ‘health shocks’ can be managed with policies that minimise their detriment, and that equip nations to rapidly respond if they do occur.
As previously mentioned, a conclusive method is essential to counteract the fatality rate of zoonoses; such as a greater collaboration by animal, human and environmental sectors in order to enhance active mechanisms against emerging health threats. One current example of this is being facilitated by Hunter New England Health (HNEH) and a group of GPs in rural NSW who have developed an ‘algorithm tool to assist with diagnosing and treating a range of severe zoonoses, such as; Q fever and brucellosis’ (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 10, para. 4). The urgency of such a tool was discerned when a literature review conducted by the University of Iowa and survey of GPs failed to recount a current management mechanism for zoonoses (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 7, para. 1). Subsequently, ‘all the clinicians involved with the project agreed that such a tool would be helpful, and should be brief and available’ extensively to the public in digital and paper format (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 13, para. 3). Resultantly, ‘the algorithm for the diagnosis and management of common zoonoses has been developed, incorporating the advice and comments of GPs and laboratory and infectious disease specialists’ (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 3, para. 9). While this tool is conducive in curating a clear-cut action plan in the event of a zoonotic outbreak, there are several limitations that should be taken into account and/or considered in the formulation of future algorithms. Firstly, the algorithmic tool is ‘not designed as an exhaustive resource but rather to draw GPs’ attention to the more important elements of diagnosing and managing a patient with brucellosis, leptospirosis or Q fever’ (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 11, para. 3). Moreover, the algorithm was comprised with the presumption that many zoonotic illnesses may present the signs and symptoms that could emulate the three chosen (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 12, para. 2). Another shortcoming is that ‘it was not possible in a single algorithm to capture all zoonotic infections,’ and finally, there is also ‘individual variability in the bodily response to a zoonotic illness’ (Gunaratnam 2014, p. 5, para. 3.) Subsequently, the merit or plausibility of making a substantial investment into a cause that can only be harnessed in a restricted array of cases needs to considered (Gilchrist 2002, p. 1, para. 18). Thus, although HNEH pioneered a sufficient mechanism to combat infections; the factors mentioned above should be encompassed in future tools to maximise the benefits, while maintaining economic sustainability.
Another mechanism to tackle animal-related illnesses is pervasive educational programs at schools that are centralised around pet-related hygiene practises, which are instrumental in minimizing contact with pathogenic agents. There are a multitude of programs targeted at delivering guidance towards safer pet ownership, one of which is The Responsible Pet Ownership Program launched by the Victorian Government. Currently, this is the only government-funded incentive in Australia focalised around pet safety, which speaks volumes about institutional concern in regards to zoonotic infections. As this is a government incentive, there may be a political interest to venerate programs that are essentially necessities. While there is a state government incentive, the RPO Program in place is focalised on pet safety and responsibility (The Victorian Government 2017, p. 1, para. 9), this leaves a substantial gap in education regarding pet hygiene. Resultantly, Animal Health Australia (AHA), a non-for-profit public company, works to provide and training and action plans to students to assist them in the case of a possible zoonotic infection, under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) (Animal Health Australia 2019, p. 1, para. 2). AHA works to ensure that trained personnel are adequately equipped in the event of an emergency animal disease (EAD) response (Animal Health Australia 2019, p. 1, para. 2). Educational programs such as these have been found to reduce morbidity rates by up to 25% in Zimbabwe (McNicholas 2005, p. 1, para. 7). Adversely, as it is not a government-funded organization, their auspicious work is constrained by a lack of funding. Therefore, it would be more propitious for the government to designate pet hygiene educational programs to organizations who specialise in animal welfare, and allocate funding accordingly as opposed to investing money into governmental programs who insufficiently address the core of zoonotic issues – poor hygiene. As a result, a manner in which society can response to emerging zoonoses is educating members of society, particularly vulnerable children, on the prevention of pathogenic transfer and animal safety.
Evidently, there are multitude of management mechanisms to control
zoonotic diseases. While there may be more elaborate, sinuous processes to
inhibit these diseases, ultimately, it is reliant on governmental and/or institutional
initiative. Therefore, the most effective precaution an individual can take is to
simply ensure their pets, their loved ones and they themselves are immunised
against these potentially fatal infections.
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