Breaking the chain of transmission: How behavioral change can keep people safe and animals healthy

October 15, 2020

Biosecurity and animal hygiene are more important than ever, especially with the world in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by a novel coronavirus that likely jumped from animals to people at a food market. But while animal-to-human viral transmission is a major public health concern, livestock-only outbreaks also can be devastating, causing tens of billions of dollars in economic damage.


Two pathogens have been commanding much international attention as of late: African swine fever, which has been ravaging herds in Asia and Europe, and the new G4 strain of the H1N1 flu virus, which has been seen jumping from pigs to people in China and may have potential for human-to-human transmission.   


How can we keep our livestock safe from infection and strengthen society’s protections against potential new pandemic-causing pathogens? It’s not a secret that chemistry and technology are crucial. What’s less well understood is the importance of training and sustained best cleaning and animal hygiene practices. If humans don’t consistently do the right thing, there is not a disinfectant in the world that can keep animals disease-free.      


Making sure that happens, with the right training, products and technology, is the business of CID LINES, the fast-growing Belgian biosecurity company that was acquired by Ecolab earlier this year. Ecolab already helps produce 44% of the world’s milk and 36% of its processed foods. With CID LINES, it adds a high-powered, expert team that is already active in 114 countries and offers more than 1,000 products.


Biosecurity for humans


Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have grown more vigilant about health issues, and that concern isn’t limited to the coronavirus itself. Food safety, too, is high on the agenda.


“With the addition of CID LINES Ecolab significantly strengthens its farm-to-fork footprint,” said Steve Anderson, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Ecolab’s Global Animal health business. “The current pandemic makes it easier to explain what we do. How to stop the spread of COVID-19 is essentially biosecurity for humans – it’s what CID LINES has been doing for animals for decades.”


Case in point: African swine fever, a disease that has been ravaging herds in Africa, Europe and Asia. The virus that causes it is extremely contagious to pigs and can kill them within a week. Outbreaks are hard to contain and there is no vaccine. Once a farm is infected, its herd must be culled and the carcasses destroyed.


African swine fever was almost eradicated by the 1990s, but made its re-entry in livestock farming through wild boar meat and hunters. “Humans, carrying the pathogen around in meat or on their clothes and other materials, were the vector,” said CID LINES’ Chief Commercial Officer Helena Brutsaert. “Under normal circumstances, wild boar and farm pigs don’t mix. If there’s a problem, it’s because of people moving around and transport of animals and meat.”


The key to preventing outbreaks? “Break the chain of transmission,” said Helena. “First, make sure you stop the spread between farms, then solve whatever issues you have at your own business. That’s how you beat the disease.”


The same is true of G4-H1N1. Since cases of transmission from pigs to humans have been found, there is some concern about its pandemic potential. Most experts agree that probability is relatively low, since there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. But in the era of COVID-19, nobody wants to take any chances.


However, the immediate risk is to swine herds, and CID LINES is confident it can help protect those, since the new G4 strain is nearly genetically identical to numerous pathogens it can control effectively. But products are not the most critical issue, Helena pointed out. “We know viruses can be killed. The real question is: Are you using the products the right way?”


Changing the culture


With decades of biosecurity experience under its belt, CID LINES has learned that training is as important as chemistry. Applying the right product is crucial, but if it isn’t accompanied by the right behaviors, its beneficial effects will be limited at best.


That’s why CID LINES’ specialized field staffers and trainers are as important as its scientists and engineers. Around the world, they work with businesses to instill best practices in areas that include personal hygiene, facilities, equipment, safe transport of animals and pest control – and put in place protocols for long-term monitoring and compliance.


“Suppose you’re repopulating your farm after an outbreak,” said Senior Marketing Communications Manager Shari Sterck. “If you don’t retrain your staff and make sure everybody is doing exactly what they’re supposed to, it hardly makes sense to get all new sows. If there’s another farm that’s affected down the road, your new herd will be infected before you know it.”


Meanwhile, the risk of animal disease outbreaks is growing larger as the world’s population grows, global middle classes expand, demand for protein increases and more and more people travel internationally.


“Because human behavior so often helps spread these diseases, we must be more mindful than ever of how we interact with animals,” said Helena. “Everybody who’s part of the food supply chain has to become more vigilant. We have to raise awareness and change the culture.”


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