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Looking for disease threats – APHA’s role

30 May 2019 | Fin Twomey


Fin Tworney, Head of the Surveillance Intelligence Unit at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), explains how APHA works to spot new and emerging disease and encourages vets to get involved.

At the Surveillance Intelligence Unit at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), we deliver veterinary scanning surveillance for livestock and wildlife in England and Wales.

Scanning surveillance is essential to detect new and re-emerging animal disease threats as well as changes in disease incidence. Our network of APHA Veterinary Investigation Centres (VICs), along with our partner post-mortem service providers and a free carcase collection service for those further away from our centres, ensures that we offer a diagnostic service across the whole of England and Wales.

Critical to the success of scanning surveillance is the contribution made by private veterinary surgeons who monitor animal health and welfare on a daily basis at farm level. Therefore, we recognise that it’s important that we share information and data with you that is generated from the samples you submit to us.

APHA and scanning surveillance

Across the UK, animal health surveillance is overseen by the UK Surveillance Forum (UKSF). In England and Wales, APHA delivers this for livestock and wildlife species and its success relies on partnerships between us, our partner post-mortem providers, private veterinary surgeons, livestock keepers, as well as various industry organisations and academic institutions.

Its purpose is to enable early detection and investigation of new or re-emerging animal diseases and it also helps us understand endemic disease patterns and trends.

APHA delivers scanning surveillance at its network of VICs through a dedicated team of Veterinary Investigation Officers (VIOs) and other scientists, as well as species and data experts in the Surveillance Intelligence Unit, and through contracted partner providers. In Scotland, a similar surveillance service is carried out by SRUC Veterinary Services and their data are shared with us to understand surveillance from a GB-wide perspective.

At our VICs, VIOs undertake disease investigations, including post mortem examinations, on carcases and other samples. They are also available to give advice, drawing on the specialist knowledge and expertise that exists across APHA. Even without making a submission, you can contact your local VIC to discuss your unusual and complex cases.  

Within the Surveillance Intelligence Unit, APHA’s expertise includes our Species Expert Groups, which cover the main livestock species and wildlife. APHA also has a network of experts across several scientific disciplines, including pathology, parasitology, bacteriology, virology, toxicology, antimicrobial resistance, zoonoses, epidemiology and risk analysis.

How do you contribute?

Early detection and monitoring of animal disease threats is vital to protect our livestock and we can only do this when we are alerted to issues at source. Vets in practice are the ‘eyes and ears’ for scanning surveillance as they are on farms on a daily basis monitoring herd and flock health and welfare, submitting diagnostic samples to the scanning surveillance network and alerting our VIOs to threats through conversations, all of which we consider, and value as, a key contribution to scanning surveillance.

Only through our contact with private vets, can we identify new threats and changes in disease patterns both at a local and national level. We are then able to share disease information and analysis back to you through our range of reports and publications (see below), which can alert you to new threats and provide you with useful information for the benefit of your own clients, to support management of their herd and flock health and welfare.

Indeed, without your submissions and conversations with our VIOs, APHA would not have been able to identify disease threats, such as the re-emergence of Schmallenberg disease in 2016/17. 

Where can you find APHA’s surveillance information?

We produce a range of regular reports to share our data and interpretations with the veterinary profession and with wider audiences through a range of media.

APHA publishes monthly surveillance reports in the Veterinary Record, which are available to view for free via our webpages, and which review recent and interesting cases of interest. We also publish focus articles which highlight important, timely disease issues.

In addition, our Species Expert Groups publish quarterly reports, which review trends and emerging threats. Again these are available via our webpages.

We have also developed GB-wide disease surveillance dashboards which are interactive so that you can view diagnostic data based on species, location, time, and disease diagnosis.  

To bring together all these resources, APHA has dedicated Surveillance and Diagnostic webpages. As well as links to our reports, including the Veterinary Investigation Diagnosis Analysis (VIDA) annual reports and our dashboards. There are contact details for our scanning surveillance network, and information on our diagnostic services, our Species Expert Groups and our specialist expertise, which include disease information notes and sampling guidance.

You can also follow APHA on Facebook (@APHAGov) and Twitter (@APHAgovuk) to get the latest news and notifications on publications.


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