A disease-tracking map created by Guelph veterinary experts might be the first step to preventing domestic animal diseases from spreading.
The interactive, online “Worms and Germs” map created by University of Guelph professor Scott Weese, Pathobiology, and former grad student Maureen Anderson, now at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, is designed to track the spread of infectious diseases in dogs, cats and horses.
Veterinarians from around the world will be invited to provide animal data, allowing researchers and veterinarians to determine where important diseases are occurring and to help identify outbreaks.
Weese said the map could also help prevent zoonotic diseases that hop from animals to humans. Viruses and bacteria tend to travel along with their domestic hosts.
Canada’s east coast has seen a recent increase in Lyme disease, a bacterial infection carried by ticks that bite domestic animals and then humans. The disease can lead to rashes and occasionally fatigue, joint and muscle pain. Until now, the extent of the problem in animals has been unknown, as experts have lacked a way to track these cases and make information publicly available.
“Knowing where pets are getting sick can help indicate where the same risks are present for people,” said Weese. “Since human diseases aren’t being mapped like we are doing for animal diseases, we might have better data on animal aspects than human aspects for some conditions. Knowing where an infectious outbreak occurs in animals lets us know where it should also occur in people. If doctors and public health officials realize animal cases are occurring in the area, it increases the need for them to consider it in people.”
Weese handled overall planning and content for the map and employed a website design company run by a veterinarian. He paid for the site through his Canada Research Chair in zoonotic diseases. Only veterinary technicians and veterinarians who register for the site will be able to enter clinical and test data. Until now, disease monitoring has occurred informally and researchers often have had to catch up to the spread of new diseases.
“Often, questions come up about the distribution of diseases and knowing where and when diseases occur is an important aspect of figuring them out,” Weese said. “For zoonotic diseases, providing information about where animals are getting sick could be useful for public health and medical personnel. Another aspect is just increasing general understanding of infectious diseases by vets and the general public.”
Weese said preventing spread of zoonotic diseases can be simple.
“Many zoonotic diseases aren’t difficult to control and basic practices can reduce the risk. We can never eliminate the risk though and failure to use good practices is not uncommon. This map gives us one more tool to fight against the spread of these diseases.”