The authorities in Belgium could learn how to handle a virus outbreak by looking at the farming industry, according to a professor from the university of Ghent.
Hans Nauwynck is professor of veterinary medicine and virology at the university of Ghent, and was taking part in an online talk with members of the Belgian association of agricultural journalists.
“Human medicine could learn many lessons from the efficiency of our vaccines, diagnosis and biosecurity on farms,” he said.
He compared the situation where a parent goes to pick up their child at crèche, being allowed to enter and walk around freely without any procedures in place, to anyone visiting a pig farm, who would not be allowed entry before showering and being kitted out in protective clothing.
“We should be ashamed,” he said. “Humans have no idea at all about biosafety. We can take the ins and outs of pig farms as an example to denounce our own biosecurity.”
On the plus side, people have become accustomed since the outbreak of Covid-19 to adopt stricter hard hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing. But aside from those few token gestures, we are reluctant to break with old habits, he said.
“People travel all over the world, come home, pass the virus on to children, who in turn go to day-care and cause an explosion of infection. Without realizing it, we are growing a lot of viruses. There are viruses currently circulating, the power of which we do not know and which can suddenly emerge as if from nowhere.”
The question of biosecurity is not limited to SARS-CoV-2, he explained. There are many viruses that go around and come around, among animals as among humans.
“But they are different diseases that cannot be transmitted from animals to humans. And yet we have the same problems,” he said.
“After all, the speed of the circulation of viruses in animals is the same as in humans. Why? Animals are kept en masse, but that also applies to people. Yet we are worse off than our animals.”
As an example, he cited the herpes virus, for which there is as yet no vaccine available, Yet for animal diseases like foot and mouth disease, swine fever and bovine viral diarrhoea, vaccines have been developed and the diseases virtually wiped out.
Just last month, Prof. Nauwynck’s department launched a spin-off, named PathoSense, which uses a diagnostic tool to carry out a wide-ranging search for all possible infectious agents.
“It is a new technology that immediately detects all viruses and bacteria in one sample. This system has a very strong advantage in terms of both diagnosis and prognosis.”
Human medicine has a lot to learn, he suggested. And PathoSense could have human applications.
“But we will have to appeal to the health insurance funds first. However if it succeeds, it would be a change in the trend of human medicine.”