The Animal Health Committee (formerly VetCom) is a committee that sits under the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC).
The committee members include the chief veterinary officers (CVOs) of the Commonwealth, states and territories, along with representatives from the CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (formerly Australian Animal Health Laboratory), the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. There are also observers from Animal Health Australia, Wildlife Health Australia, and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries.
What does the AHC do?
The main purpose of AHC is to develop science-based and nationally consistent policy on animal health issues, and to provide advice as necessary on animal health to NBC. In doing so, AHC provides leadership in developing and implementing policy, programs, operational strategies and standards for government in the areas of animal health, domestic quarantine, animal welfare and veterinary public health.
The committee meets face-to-face twice a year, and the meetings are held in a different state each time. The position of the chair of the committee is rotated annually between the CVOs. AHC members also meet regularly by teleconference to discuss issues of national importance. A considerable amount of business is considered out of session where committee discussion of the issue is not necessary.
AHC publishes a newsletter, Vetcommunique, that provides information on current topics that they have considered in their face-to-face meetings.
AHC is supported by the Sub-committee on Aquatic Animal Health and the Animal Health Laboratory Standards.
Policy statement on SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19) diagnostic testing and surveillance in animals
20 November 2020
There have been no reports of the SARS CoV-2 virus infection in pets, livestock, or wildlife in Australia.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advises that the current pandemic is being driven through human to human transmission of SARS-CoV-2. However there have been a low number of examples of transmission between animals such as minks, dogs, domestic cats, lions and tigers, following contact with infected humans.
Animals such as mink, when kept in intensive housing, can act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, passing the virus between them, and pose a risk for virus spill-over from mink to humans. People can then transmit this virus within the human population. Additionally, spill-back (human to mink transmission) can occur. As viruses move between human and animal populations, genetic modifications in the virus can occur.
Fortunately, in Australia, we do not have mink farms, though we should be alert to the potential for similar events to occur in related species, such as ferrets. Ferret to ferret transmission has been experimentally demonstrated, both through direct contact and via the airborne route. Further information on this is available on the nature communications website.
Diagnostic testing and surveillance in animals for COVID-19 in Australia is only recommended on the advice of human and animal health authorities. If testing is undertaken, confirmatory testing should be performed at the CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.
Veterinarians considering testing their patients for SARS-CoV-2 must consult with their state or territory animal health authorities in the first instance.
Commercial entities who develop tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals should reference the OIE’s guidelines for sampling and testing animals, and carefully consider the circumstances when testing may support human and animal health and welfare outcomes.
Animal owners/handlers should continue to implement good hygiene and farm biosecurity practices where animals are kept, including washing their hands before and after contact with animals.
People who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid or minimise close contact with animals as a precaution.
This policy statement will be reviewed by the Animal Health Committee and updated as further information comes to hand.
- Guidance on working with farmed animals of species susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2
- Questions and Answers on COVID-19, World Organisation for Animal Health
- Considerations for sampling, testing, and reporting of SARS-CoV-2 in animals
Why is the work of the AHC important?
Australia enjoys a high level of food quality and an enviable reputation amongst our agricultural trading partners for disease freedom. Surveillance monitoring and reporting systems focus on the fact that Australia can be called upon to substantiate our claims of freedom from major diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). As part of such assurances, we must be able to demonstrate that an adequate level of service exists to detect, diagnose and control animal diseases.