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Interview : Charlotte Dunoyer, Scientific Director of the Animal Health and Welfare theme

Charlotte Dunoyer, Directrice scientifique transversale santé animale

Animal health is also our health.

Why is it important not to view animal health and human health in isolation?

Certain diseases, by circulating among animals, could adapt to humans. It is necessary to combat these pathogens in order to protect our own health. A telling example is the avian influenza virus: the more mammals it infects, the more it evolves genetically, enabling it to become contagious for our species. Another example is swine flu. We know that pigs are a crucible favouring the reassortment of influenza viruses (swine, avian, human) and therefore the emergence of a zoonotic disease. It is also important to control existing zoonoses, such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis and tick-borne encephalitis. Regarding brucellosis, a disease transmitted by ruminants, 2022 was an eventful year. Our Laboratory for Animal Health organised an unprecedented response to the outbreak in the Alps of Haute-Savoie. The teams carried out various analytical investigations to identify the epidemiological links between ibex and the affected cattle farm, and then between this farm and other cattle farms in the area. They also tested all the cattle in the outbreak after slaughter to determine the number of infected cows, and continued analytical investigations to monitor the ibex in the Massif du Bargy. The purpose of all this work was to protect both animals and human health.

How do ANSES’s animal health missions improve the response to emerging risks?

Five of our research laboratories specialise in animal diseases, whether zoonotic or not. As reference laboratories for these different diseases, they are responsible for the effective implementation and confirmation of analyses carried out on farms and in production sectors to detect a pathogen and respond accordingly. They therefore play a major role in monitoring diseases, while working with the network of departmental testing laboratories and all the players of the epidemiological surveillance platform for animal health. The scientific skills of our laboratories enable us to support the authorities in preparing for future outbreaks. Take the example of foot-and-mouth disease: it is extremely contagious, and would be a disaster for all French livestock farms if it were to spread across the country. ANSES’s Laboratory for Animal Health holds all the national, European and international reference mandates for this disease. This gives us a comprehensive view of foot-and-mouth disease viruses circulating around the world, but also enables us to maintain a high level of vigilance and anticipate any emerging threats. Through its various mandates, our laboratory is also able to collect a variety of specimens of these viruses. These are essential for conducting research into this disease, which is not present in France.

What are the challenges to preventing new epidemics?

Ever since the COVID crisis, there has been a lot of talk about the “One Health” approach: animals, plants, environment and humans. However, practice is still inadequate. We need to rethink the health system to improve horizontal coordination of human and animal diseases. This means, for example, harmonising surveillance systems. Sharing data on the development of diseases in different animal species and in humans, and analysing them jointly, would provide a more comprehensive view of the risks. Moreover, regulation of certain zoonoses – which are diseases that affect both humans and animals – is poor or even non-existent in animal health, because most of the time they are asymptomatic in animals. This is the case today, for example, with tick-borne encephalitis, echinococcosis, Q fever and West Nile disease. If we fail to acknowledge the One Health challenge of these zoonoses, we are depriving ourselves of the tools with which to monitor and prevent their emergence. Lastly, in terms of research funding, it is important to integrate the “One Health” principle without neglecting the animal health aspect, in order to acquire cross-over knowledge on pathogens that are shared or that could become zoonotic. The European One Health EJP research programme is a good example of this.