Vet course, Avian flu team task, 12.3.17

VetQuest was an opportunity to visit one of the universities offering Veterinary Science. The first lecture was by an academic working in admissions, exploring the range of careers in veterinary medicine as well as the academic and work experience expectations.

From teaching, to pharmaceuticals to working for APHA… there are many roads you can go down following a veterinary degree.

My first timetabled workshop was preventing disease spreading, about the topical avian flu. Following the work I have done on the farm, this was a great opportunity to see the working relationship between a private vet and an APHA vet. As a group, we had to decide what we would do in hypothetical situations where vets are under immense pressure to make choices regarding controlling outbreaks. We decided what protective clothing a vet should wear: a face mask to prevent inhalation of pathogens, of dust and toxic ammonia from hen faeces, 2 boiler suits, boot covers and gloves. Two of our team members had 3 minutes to get changed into the appropriate clothing, preparing to go into the pretend shed 4. The given scenario was that a farmer raised an alarm over his shed 4, as he believes many of them are presenting clinical signs.

Avian influenza is extremely infectious, and kills birds very quickly, so it is important for a vet to react swiftly. Before they ‘went to the farm’, the vet asked whether vets should assess the sheds in the order 1234 or 4321, I raised the issue of going to 4 first as this is the suspected infected group so there is a risk of spreading this to to others so for bio security reasons, go to 4 last.

The two team members acting as the initial call our private vets then left the room and a phone rang. I picked up the phone and had the role of the APHA vet, speaking on behalf of the rest of the group. I asked the vet to provide information on the number of animals on the farm, the living conditions and structure, if all of the sheds were affected, how many animals have recently died, if there has been a movement of new animals in etc. I concluded that the hens needed to have blood taken before confirming this is avian flu and to ensure the hens remain quarantined in their shed to prevent spread in the case of only one shed being affected at this moment in time.

This is what it is like for farm vets, being outside of a closed practice means communication is key.

As soon as I put the phone down, a question with a timer came up on the interactive whiteboard… to cull all of the hens in all four sheds or to wait 24 hours until the blood tests are back. The group were split, but I strongly believed in waiting for 24 hours given the circumstances. Culling would not happen over night, so the 24 hours is not a preventable measure for the suffering for the animals.

The blood tests came back and showed positives for viruses but negative for the ELISA antibody test. This is because avian flu would kill the hen before their body produced the antibody immune response.

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