People think ‘biosecurity’ is what we see on the news, or at the movies with scary genetically-enhanced agents kept in a special facility. The hero has to break through the top notch security and don his special full body impermeable gear to save the world by destroying the nasty viral cultures in their petri dishes. Or the news story shows a special team arriving at the site of a new deadly disease outbreak all wearing space suits as they examine patients and study the situation. In recent history, we have the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Zika virus concerns in Central and South America. Many will remember the hoof and mouth outbreak in the UK. The news stories were about quarantine orders on areas of farmland and the mass disposal of infected animals. All very distressing and dramatic!
These extreme examples make us feel that biosecurity is difficult and perhaps a kind of futuristic science fiction that does not apply to regular folks. Let’s break down biosecurity to simple tasks and practices we do every day already.
We learn early not to put certain things in our mouths. This is basic biosecurity for our bodies as many harmful things enter our body via our mouths. We cook food. We wash our hands. We do our dishes and keep our living space clean. We don’t walk around in our house with rubber boots that were worn outside. We wash our clothing and our bedding. All hygiene is based on principles of personal biosecurity.
Now think about common illnesses, like a cold or the flu. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve in the crook of your arm. Take a squirt of hand sanitizer when you enter or leave a building. Avoid known sources of infection. Sometimes hospitals and other care facilities issue quarantine notices to prevent unnecessary traffic through their facility.
These practices apply to our animals too. Picking up pet waste helps prevent disease transmission, and makes our parks and urban spaces much more attractive to use another day! On farms, animals live in close contact and contamination occurs when animals walk around where their own droppings fall. It makes good sense not to walk in someone else’s barnyard and then your own wearing the same shoes. A simple way to NOT share dirt from one barnyard to the next!
Most of these basic biosecurity practices people have learned over centuries of living in communities together. We learn things from our elders that have been passed along for the health and wellbeing of the whole community. We don’t all need to walk around in our personal biosecurity suit (even though it may be fun for a while!). We just need to practice good hygiene and consider how to avoid bringing microscopic infectious agents from one place to another—our homes, farms, communities, and countries.
Dr. Perry Spitzer is an owner and director of North Peace Veterinary Clinic Ltd. with his life and veterinary partner, Dr. Corinne Spitzer. Perry enjoys all aspects of mixed veterinary practice, with strong ties to large animal veterinary medicine and the beef industry. Outside work, Perry enjoys outdoor activities, farming and his own livestock.