Introduction of exotic animal diseases in France: recommendations for improving surveillance and prevention

Foot and mouth disease, avian influenza or bluetongue – as the crises of the past decade have shown, organised and responsive systems are vital to combat exotic pathogens. In order to identify the exotic diseases most at risk of being introduced into France, and to specify the most suitable means of controlling and monitoring these agents, ANSES issued a formal internal request. It is today publishing the results of its work and its recommendations.

Animal health can potentially be threatened by a variety of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites), some of which can also affect human health (zoonotic agents). Some of these pathogens are found on the French mainland whereas others circulate outside the country and are known as "exotic". Owing mainly to the introduction of contaminated animals or animal products, these exotic agents may be introduced and then become established in France.

In animal health, the crises of the past decade have all been linked to the introduction in France of exotic pathogens: foot and mouth disease in 2001, highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in 2006, bluetongue in 2007 and 2008, and the Schmallenberg virus in 2011-2012. Organised and responsive systems are therefore vital to prevent, detect and control these agents.

ANSES decided to issue a formal internal request to address this issue. The purpose of its work was threefold:

  • identify the exotic diseases most at risk of being introduced into France;
  • propose the most suitable measures for detecting the introduction of these agents in the country as early as possible;
  • indicate the main control principles to be implemented to prevent the introduction and spread of exotic agents.

ANSES’s study focused on diseases of cattle, small ruminants, pigs, horses and poultry. The results of this work are being published today.

The Agency began by classifying the exotic pathogens into three groups, depending on the probability of their introduction and dissemination in mainland France, and the consequences of this introduction and dissemination.
Sixty-two exotic diseases, both transmissible and not transmissible to humans, were therefore classified into three groups according to the risk level. Foot and mouth disease and highly pathogenic avian influenza were classified as presenting the highest risk. For the first 21 diseases (the first two groups), the strengths and weaknesses of the current systems were analysed, and the margins for improvement were examined in the areas of surveillance, prevention of introduction and prevention of dissemination in the event of introduction.

ANSES’s recommendations

In general, ANSES emphasised the quality of the French surveillance system, which is based on the triad of veterinary services, veterinary practitioners and laboratories (both reference and diagnostic). This system demonstrated its ability to respond quickly and effectively during recent incursions of exotic diseases (foot and mouth disease in 2001, highly pathogenic avian influenza in 2006, bluetongue in 2007 and 2008, and the Schmallenberg virus in 2012).

General proposals to improve control of exotic diseases were issued on the basis of this review. Accordingly, ANSES calls for measures such as better centralisation of international epidemiological information and its provision in real time to assessors and risk managers; surveying and georeferencing of farms; improved animal identification and traceability; nomination of National Reference Laboratories for each of the diseases listed; updating of emergency plans; and strengthening of biosafety measures in farms.

With regard to epidemiological surveillance and preventing the introduction of exotic pathogens, the Agency recommends in particular the inclusion of specific messages on the travel advice website of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as well as European-level harmonisation of the health requirements for importing non-domestic animals, stipulating health guarantees for each disease.

To prevent the spread of exotic infectious agents, ANSES strongly recommends the establishment of European vaccine banks and advance planning regarding the choice of potential suppliers for the vaccines currently available abroad that meet European Pharmacopoeia criteria, to ensure that these suppliers can be called on rapidly when needed for emergency vaccination. Finally, in the course of this study, ANSES identified priority research and development topics, in relatively fundamental areas such as the biology of pathogens and vectors, and the interactions between pathogens and their hosts, but also in areas of applied science such as development of vaccines, tools and diagnostic methods, and geographical distribution of the vectors of these pathogens.