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A Focused Ethnographic Study of Alberta Cattle Veterinarians’ Decision Making about Diagnostic Laboratory Submissions and Perceptions of Surveillance Programs
Published: Friday, May 31, 2013
Author: Kate Sawford et al.

by Kate Sawford, Ardene Robinson Vollman, Craig Stephen

The animal and public health communities need to address the challenge posed by zoonotic emerging infectious diseases. To minimize the impacts of future events, animal disease surveillance will need to enable prompt event detection and response. Diagnostic laboratory-based surveillance systems targeting domestic animals depend in large part on private veterinarians to submit samples from cases to a laboratory. In contexts where pre-diagnostic laboratory surveillance systems have been implemented, this group of veterinarians is often asked to input data. This scenario holds true in Alberta where private cattle veterinarians have been asked to participate in the Alberta Veterinary Surveillance Network-Veterinary Practice Surveillance, a platform to which pre-diagnostic disease and non-disease case data are submitted. Consequently, understanding the factors that influence these veterinarians to submit cases to a laboratory and the complex of factors that affect their participation in surveillance programs is foundational to interpreting disease patterns reported by laboratories and engaging veterinarians in surveillance. A focused ethnographic study was conducted with ten cattle veterinarians in Alberta. Individual in-depth interviews with participants were recorded and transcribed to enable thematic analysis. Laboratory submissions were biased toward outbreaks of unknown cause, cases with unusual mortality rates, and issues with potential herd-level implications. Decreasing cattle value and government support for laboratory testing have contributed to fewer submissions over time. Participants were willing participants in surveillance, though government support and collaboration were necessary. Changes in the beef industry and veterinary profession, as well as cattle producers themselves, present both challenges and opportunities in surveillance.