Land clearing for the expansion of urban and agricultural areas inevitably leads to the loss and fragmentation of native habitat. Wildlife species capable of surviving in fragmented habitats are often required to adapt aspects of their behavioural ecology which can lead to an increased interaction not only within species but also between species, including with domestic animals and humans. At this interface, the risk of disease transmission between wildlife and humans is increased. My research aims to investigate pathogen exposure, and where possible pathogen shedding, in a common native mammal living in human landscapes. This will enable an understanding of the role of native wildlife in the epidemiology of these pathogens and how this is impacted by the human environments in which they live.
Practicing veterinarians face a number of challenges when investigating atypical disease presentations, especially if concerned about potential zoonoses or emerging disease. In a recent survey, practitioners were asked what constraints they face when doing a clinical workup in this situation.
Many veterinarians cited client financial limitations as a significant barrier to disease investigation. Additionally, significant numbers reported concerns regarding practice biosecurity including rudimentry or absent isolation facilities, inadequate PPE and poor infection control practices. Time pressures inherent in busy practices were seen to limit scope to conduct thorough disease workups. Rural and remote practitioners noted difficulties accessing support from government agencies and timely pathology services, especially out of hours or on weekends.
Practitioners expressed worry about their ability to manage potential health risks for themselves, their family, staff, clients and other animals. Some felt they did not have sufficient knowledge or were anxious about being over-zealous or causing unnecessary alarm. Difficulties in maintaining integrity of PPE when examining and treating animals was also seen to pose a potential disease risk.
Concerningly, practitioners reported both positive and negative interactions with government agencies. Some expressed frustration about a lack of interest in non-production animals, especially small animals, the absence of a notifiable disease.
Ultimately, these unusual disease presentations were perceived as ‘part of our job’, with some practitioners outlining structures in place within their current practice protocols to enable safe management of potentially serious zoonotic diseases. However, our findings suggest a need for further practitioner education in this area alongside government assistance, especially of smaller and less resourced practices, to ensure an appropriate level of biosecurity and disease management.