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Mad Cows and Sick Chickens: Using Information Networks to Protect Human Health

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Masaryk University Brno


Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have suffered continuing outbreaks of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in poultry. There is need for biosecurity of poultry to prevent infection and enhanced early warning systems to detect new cases are critical. This implies the need to implement surveillance systems and information sharing to reduce the risk of potential outbreaks and human transmission. In the case of “mad cow” disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the 2003 discovery of one contaminated cow in each of Canada and the U.S. resulted in their common border being closed. It also closed exports from both countries to Europe, particularly Japan and other Asian countries. The U.S. and Canada finally reached agreement to reopen their border “after a careful and thorough science-based risk assessment” to importation of meat and animals from regions recognized as posing minimal risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. But several subsequent cases, including the second confirmed U.S. case was announced June 24, 2005. Do these cases signal a flawed prevention system, weak surveillance and tracking, or a dubious policymaking process? This paper will explore the evidence of animal to human contamination risk; the economic impacts of control measures; the need for tracking and animal ID systems; and the challenges of using information systems to prevent contamination of humans by animal-borne diseases.


Armbruster, Walter J. (2005): Mad Cows and Sick Chickens: Using Information Networks to Protect Human Health. Informatics for Environmental Protection - Networking Environmental Information. Brno: Masaryk University Brno. EcoInfoma Symposium. Brno. 2005