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Mapping data offers clues on disease spread between farms

Staff Writer |
Scientists in Italy have produced evidence to support better biodiversity on farms by mapping the movement of contractors and vehicles between farms.

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Mapping operator and vehicle movements in this way can help explain the spread of dangerous and infectious livestock diseases, like foot-and-mouth and avian influenza, a strain of which is currently causing major problems across Europe.

Dr. Gianluigi Rossi, from the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell'Emilia Romagna, led research mapping the movement of vets and other workers on dairy farms in Northern Italy.

The findings, Dr. Rossi said, reveal hidden features that cannot be detected by simply looking at the frequency of visits to farms, and explains patterns of infection that would otherwise be difficult to see.

Rossi and colleagues discovered that veterinarians' movements produce an unexpectedly large number of potentially infectious contacts between farms that can quickly spread dangerous livestock diseases.

Authorities are controlling some movements between farms, recommending bird keepers pay special attention to visitors on farms, and asking that keepers commit to regular disinfection of key areas of the farm in response to the ongoing wave of bird flu infections across Europe.

But the researchers said the spread of disease via visitor movements is still poorly understood, because of the “highly diverse and complex nature of such movements… privacy issues in data collection” and a lack of high quality data on movements of certain classes of farm visitors.

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