Caribbean Region Warned about Deadly Livestock Disease Transferable to Human

St Johns, Antigua. May 24, 2012: The Caribbean has been warned not to compromise their stance on the implementation of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Standards to mitigate infectious disease.  Such diseases include the deadly Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) known for its prevalence among livestock and risk for humans because of its transferability from animals to human.
According to Dr. Cedric Lazarus, Regional Livestock Specialist, attached to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) in Barbados, the disease can be spread in raw unpasteurized milk or meat from infected cattle.

Not only are the consumers of the infected milk or meat at risk, so are cattle farmers, veterinarians, animal health workers and public health meat inspectors.   Children and infants, the elderly, immuno-compromised persons and persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHIV/AIDS) are also susceptible.

Bovine TB, explained Dr Lazarus, is caused from Mycobacterium bovis (Tuberculosis and M. avium). It is spread mainly by ingestion.

—By Onika Campbell, Journalist

“Cows get the bacteria from other cows mainly by breathing it in or by ingestion. The disease mainly is concentrated in lungs, lymph nodes, gut, bladder, liver, and kidney,” Dr Lazarus told Panos Caribbean. “…in most cattle there will be no symptoms at all. Hence most farmers will not know if their cows have the disease or not.”

While this has serious public health implications, Dr Lazarus explained that some countries are free from Bovine TB.  Among those listed are many European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and some Caribbean countries such as Cuba and
Jamaica.

With the revelation of these concerns authorities in some countries like Antigua and Barbuda are taking action. Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Oona Edwards at the Ministry Of Agriculture, Lands, Housing & the Environment in Antigua said that the department has already moved to close any gaps for the entrance of the epidemic.

Dr. Edwards said that a series of sensitization program have been held in the six parishes, to equip farmers with the know-how to implement and execute Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) on the farms.

An Epidemiology Project geared towards, assessing the animal health situation in Antigua & Barbuda, is also underway.

Another Veterinarian, Dr Zakia Goodwin-Diaz, said Bovine Tuberculosis and Avian Influenza should be a priority disease for regional countries.

It is important to target all registered commercial poultry farms for bi-annual testing for the Avian Influenza, while for Bovine Tuberculosis, samples should be chosen randomly from the population for testing, she said.

This level of surveillance, Dr. Goodwin-Diaz said will allow early detection of diseases for appropriate control measures.

The veterinarian stressed also critical measures for the maintenance of enviable health status such as “practicing good bio-security measures (feet and wheel washing with proper disinfectant to prevent spread of bacteria), control of the entry of animals and animal products from other countries and the implementing of effective animal disease surveillance measures.”

Dr. Lazarus concurred that the benefits of the TB surveillance programme in Antigua is immeasurable as many of the common infectious diseases found in many neighboring islands have never been detected in Antigua and Barbuda. He disclosed that, over 2 billion persons worldwide are infected with the TB bacteria, in most cases from developing countries in Asia and Africa.

“TB is the leading killer of people with HIV… and TB and HIV go hand in hand,” Dr. Lazarus said.

Dr Lazarus said further that TB is swiftly becoming a global burden. He gave a breakdown, that of the estimated 6.8 billion world population, 2 million are infected with TB, 16 million are ill with TB, eight (8-10) million new cases are reported annually, another 2 million deaths are noted per year and a combination of 230,000 die annually from TB/HIV related complications.
Dr. Lazarus urged livestock farmers to take stock of the farm practices, since; TB is listed among the three (3) top killers around the world with Malaria and HIV/AIDS. “There is more TB today than at any other time, (and) the TB resurgence is mainly due to the HIV pandemic.”

He noted that a trend of increased potential to trade in animal and animal products with other countries could be linked to the increase in TB infections.

But, Trevor George, Abattoir Supervisor in Antigua & Barbuda, emphasized meat hygiene and Abattoir Requirement as part of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) and the implementation of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Standards to mitigate infectious disease.  HACCP is a tool that can be useful in the prevention of food safety hazards. While extremely important, HACCP is only one part of a multi-component food safety system. HACCP is not a stand-alone program. Other parts must include: good manufacturing practices, sanitation standard operating procedures, and a personal hygiene program.

Over the years, the HACCP system has been successfully applied in the food industry.

“The safeguarding of a country’s meat supply depends on the diligent implementation of legislation relating to Abattoir construction, operations and meat inspection; along with control chemical and pharmaceutical usage on the farm promotion of high health standards in livestock and general care during transportation and in meat plant lairages, ” said George, while calling for ante-mortem examination – to eliminate unfit animals and to make provisions for special post-mortem examination of the carcass immediately after slaughter.

He stressed there should be no compromise of  high standard of hygiene at all stages, from the farm to the plant – meat markets, school meals programme plant, restaurant kitchens and the consumer’s house.

Diahn Gomes, Animal Health Assistant, in Antigua & Barbuda also stressed that record keeping is an important aspect of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS).

She defined GAPS in livestock as a series of technical requirements for producing food animals resulting in safe and wholesome products, enhanced marketability, productivity and profitability of the producer.

Gomes also urged producers to become GAPs certified by “keeping proper and appropriate records of husbandry practices and treatments performed on their animals.

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