What is biosecurity?
Even though veterinarians are able to treat and cure infectious diseases in animals, veterinarians and other animal health professionals work very hard to prevent animals from getting sick in the first place!
The procedures and methods we use to protect animals (and humans) from infectious agents is called biosecurity!
Biosecurity Practices in Animal Agriculture
We use biosecurity practices to keep animals healthy in all sorts of settings. For example, in a vet clinic we always disinfect our exam tables between patients! But we can really see the importance of biosecurity in our agricultural industries.
In order to keep farms healthy, we try to limit the possibility that diseases can spread between farms. This way, if the animals on one farm get sick, we can contain the illness within that one population and keep our other operations disease free!
So where do we start?
To do this we must limit the number of people, animals, and objects, like vehicles and feed, moving between farms. This is because people and animals can act as vectors and objects can act as fomites for infectious agents.
Vector = a living organisms that can transmit infectious agents
Fomite = an inanimate object that can transmit infectious agents
We also want to keep track of any of these things that might be moving between farms! This way, if a producer notices that some of their animals are getting sick they can determine what farms they might have come in contact with. Together, producers, vets, and regulatory bodies, like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), can use this information to figure out where a pathogen might have come from and which animals might be at risk for the disease!
So how do we do this?
To protect our animals, we use a number of practices to limit the possibility of spreading pathogens into the areas where they live.
Washing/sanitizing hands before and after going into the space where the animals are housed
Restricting access to the area where animals are located to only essential people
Quarantining new animals to make sure that they aren’t carrying any diseases
Wearing disinfected rubber boots or shoe covers
Wearing coveralls over our clothing
Disinfecting/sanitizing objects that may have been on other farms
How do we do this?
Certain practices, like wearing rubber boots or coveralls that we remove after also helps prevent us from bringing potential pathogens from the animals we were working with to other farms! Some pathogens that affect animals can affect people too, so these practices also help us protect ourselves!
At the vet school, we always wear clean coveralls and boots when going to interact with our cattle and our horses! You will also see in our bovine and equine wards that we have a boot dip we use to sanitize our boots before and after working with our animals.
Some farms use something called a Danish Entry to aid in this! This is a special set up that we may encounter before entering a barn. Before the entrance to the barn there will often be a bench or a piece of wood to mark a “dirty side” and a “clean side” - like this diagram
On one side we take off any outerwear that can’t be covered by the coveralls and we take off our outside shoes one foot at a time. When we take off an outside shoe, we step across the bench so that our socks don’t touch down on the dirty side. Once we are on the clean side, we disinfect our hands and put on clean coveralls and boots.
Biosecurity in Different Commodities
Different commodities (or types of farms) use different levels of biosecurity. Beef and dairy farms tend to have fewer biosecurity requirements than pork or poultry farms. Pigs and poultry actually share a few viral diseases with people, such as certain types of the flu, which makes keeping an accurate visitor record very important! And because of how they are housed, diseases can pass through these types of farms very quickly. As a result, biosecurity with poultry and swine farms tends to be very strict. Some farms are even shower-in-shower-out facilities. This means that you have to take a shower and change all of your clothing before you can enter into the barn! Imagine the Danish Entry from above, but instead of a bench, you have to walk through a shower!
How are we using biosecurity practices in our everyday life?
In the current pandemic, we are using many of the things that we talked about above in our everyday life! For example, people are wearing masks and washing/disinfecting their hands frequently to help prevent the spread of disease! And if people leave the country, they have to quarantine in order to ensure that they are disease free before going out into public.