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ARCHIVE: International disease monitoring

The International Disease Surveillance team is part of International Animal Health Division. We monitor occurrence of major animal disease outbreaks worldwide as an early warning to assess the risk these events may pose to the UK.

Our assessments and reports aim to raise awareness that animal disease outbreaks occur regularly around the world. We publish:

Anyone who has any comment on these is welcome to contact us via e-mail:

Where do we get our information?

Our reports are based on information received from:

and from a range of other sources including Internet searches.

What is the scope of our work?

We are looking for significant changes in the level of threat to the UK livestock population. We are therefore interested in new disease incidents in EU Member States, countries on the borders of the EU and the UK’s third country trading partners. More generally, we monitor the disease situation worldwide with a view to identifying any significant incursion of disease to new areas of the world or longer term trends in levels on distribution of disease.

What are the disease threats?

We import animals and animal products from EU Member States and from third countries. They must comply with strict EU rules imposed to prevent disease entering the Community. However, these imports could present a risk if the disease situation in the exporting country deteriorates.

We recognise that there is a background level of disease in many countries which is not always reported. For example, foot and mouth disease is endemic in much of Africa, Asia and South America and there is a risk that such disease could enter the UK at any time, for example through illegal imports. The EU and UK have enhanced their controls on imports of illegal meat and meat products to reduce the risk. However, this risk cannot be totally eliminated.

In addition, disease risks to the UK may increase because of human activities (e.g. movement of contaminated objects, movement of people) or natural phenomena (e.g. migrating birds, windborne spread, insect vectors). Not all of these can be controlled by Defra.

What do we do when disease occurs?

We carry out a qualitative risk assessment to estimate the likelihood of the disease entering the UK. This includes looking at the measures the country has put in place to control disease on the ground and prevent its spread to other countries through export controls. If there has been a delay in detecting or reporting disease then we would be looking to see whether disease could be introduced through exports that took place before the outbreak was reported and confirmed.

When there is a significant increase in risk, International Animal Health Division will act quickly to mitigate it, usually in concert with the EU. We may take unilateral safeguard measures to block legal imports from countries or regions with outbreaks of disease. We will also trace and check any recent imports of animals which may present a risk.

The team will inform those responsible for biosecurity, surveillance, enforcement, and emergency response so that they can take appropriate measures.


Page last modified: January 13, 2012