Introduction to VPH

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What is Veterinary Public Health?

The field of Public Health concerns the management of human health at the community level. This contrasts to other aspects of medicine where treatment is frequently focussed on the individual. Public Health often involves methods of disease prevention (e.g. vaccination, sanitation, etc.).

Veterinary Public Health concerns all areas of Public Health that can be protected or improved by Veterinary Medicine. See WHO-VPH

Under this broad definition Veterinary Public Health could include almost all aspects of veterinary work from treating pets (as this helps people's "..mental & social well-being..") to farm animal veterinary work (as this helps secure food production, essential to public health).

Conventionally Veterinary Public Health as a topic covers the following areas:

Food production & safety

It is desirable to consider food production as a chain, with animals reared on the farm (pre-harvest) then going for primary processing (harvest), secondary processing & distribution followed by final preparation (all post-harvest). This "Farm to Fork" concept can be easily described by considering a beef animal on a farm going to slaughter at the abattoir, then the hamburger production plant, then being distributed to a supermarket. The hamburger is then sold, taken home, stored, cooked & eaten.

Veterinary Public Health concerns all aspects of food production chain from controlling epidemic diseases that may impact on agriculture, to ensuring slaughter is conducted safely & humanely, to informing the public on safe ways to store & cook hamburgers.

The safe production of meat is covered in Food Safety

Zoonosis control

A zoonosis may be defined as any disease and/or infection which is naturally transmissible between animals & man. See WHO-Zoonoses

They are of major public concern. Headlines on issues like Avian Influenza, BSE (mad cow disease) & Salmonella of eggs have dominated the UK newspaper headlines for the last thirty years.

The picture in developed & developing countries may be quite different as far as zoonoses are concerned. In developed countries the consumer has very little contact with the live animal, limiting transmission from live animals to the general public. In addition food safety is extremely regulated. Despite this food borne disease is still a big problem in developed countries. In the EU in 2006, a total of 175,561 confirmed cases of campylobacteriosis were reported from 21 Member States and reported cases will only represent the tip of the iceberg (see - The EFSA Journal (2007) 130-Main conclusions on the Community Summary Report on Zoonoses 2006).

Veterinary Public Health concerns the Surveillance & control of zoonoses at many different levels be it via disease control programmes at farm level or wild animals or in the abattoir.

See the Food Safety section & the section Non Food derived Zoonoses.

Environmental contamination

Environmental pollutants that arise throught the keeping & use of animals may include pollution of the air, land or water. It can arise through animal waste products as well as chemicals that may be used during production (e.g. insecticides, antibiotics, etc...).

In addition practicing vets will also produce potential environmental contaminants in the form of used needles, syringes, animal tissue & other clinical waste.

All of these materials have to be dealt with in a safe & controlled way. See the Section Environmental Contamination.

The role of animals in society

This aspect of Veterinary Public Heath deals with a number of ethical issues. Welfare of animals is an ever present issue regardless of the setting, whether it concerns pet animals, production animals or wild animals.

Where the line that defines acceptable & unacceptable welfare conditions lies is different for different individuals from different countries & cultures, however, it is common for minimum welfare standards to be defined in legislation (see Legislation).

Other issues may concern the use of animals in science, not just for experimentation, but the use of transgenic animals (an animals who has had its genome deliberately altered by genetic engineering techniques as opposed to selective breeding) & xenotransplantation (the transplantation of organs or tissues from one species to another) or the emergence of resistance to antimicrobial drugs due to their use in animals (see Antimicrobial Resistance).