Infectious animal diseases

An animal disease is an infectious animal disease caused by biological pathogens.

The pathogens may either directly or through the environment be transmitted from one animal to another or from an animal to a human or vice versa (these are called zoonoses). Widespread animal diseases which are caused by non-transmissible agents (diseases spread by insect vectors) are also deemed infectious animal diseases.

An infectious animal disease is deemed especially dangerous if it is likely to spread rapidly in animal populations, cause widespread outbreaks of disease and high mortality rates, or cause significant financial loss. An infectious animal disease which constitutes a serious threat to human life or health is also deemed dangerous.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was established in 1924 to improve co-operation between countries in preventing and controlling dangerous infectious animal diseases. Estonia joined the OIE in 1992. By now, most of the countries of the world have joined the OIE. Although the organisation is now called the World Organisation for Animal Health, it is still known by the French acronym OIE.

The main tasks of the OIE are to manage a database containing information about the spread of infectious animal diseases in the world, promote co-operation between countries to control infectious animal diseases, spread awareness on effective infectious animal disease control methods, and ensure rapid communication of information on outbreaks of dangerous infectious animal diseases.

In the past, different infectious animal diseases were categorised into groups A and B depending on their speed of spreading and economic loss caused. List A contained especially dangerous infectious animal diseases which spread rapidly. These diseases are also characterised by high mortality of animals, they bring great economic loss, and are difficult to control. Diseases that do not spread as rapidly and which are not as uncontrollable as diseases in list A were categorised in list B. However, these diseases may also result in significant economic loss. Nowadays, infectious animal diseases are no longer categorised into lists A and B and a single list called the OIE List has been prepared.

Pursuant to the national measures of Estonia, infectious animal diseases are categorised into infectious animal diseases subject to notification and infectious animal diseases subject to registration and these have been laid down in a regulation by the Minister of Agriculture. All especially dangerous infectious animal diseases, infectious animal diseases dangerous to humans, and infectious animal diseases which have never been diagnosed in Estonian animal populations or which have not been diagnosed in Estonia for an extended period of time are infectious animal diseases subject to notification. Supervisory officials, authorised veterinarians, veterinarians, veterinary laboratories, and other persons must promptly notify the Agriculture and Food Board of suspicion or diagnosis of an infectious animal disease subject to notification. Cases of diagnosis of an infectious animal disease subject to registration are registered and the Agriculture and Food Board is notified thereof in accordance with the procedure for regular reporting.

To prevent the spread of an infectious animal disease, the Agriculture and Food Board exercises regular supervision in livestock buildings and carries out the required studies in herds. Animals are vaccinated as a preventive measure and the expenses are either born by the state (e.g. vaccination of foxes and raccoon dogs against rabies) or the keeper of the animals (e.g. vaccination of poultry against Newcastle disease) as prescribed.

For the purpose of preventing the spread of an infectious animal disease, a keeper of animals shall strictly follow biosafety measures and promptly notify a veterinarian in case of suspicion.

In the case of an infectious animal disease, the methods laid down in the infectious animal disease control rules are applied and activities prescribed in the code of conduct of the relevant disease are carried out.

In order to prevent and control infectious animal diseases, the Agriculture and Food Board has prepared national infectious animal disease control programmes and establishes annual implementing measures to ensure that they are complied with. The number of animals and herds per species and the risk of infectious animal diseases in Estonia and abroad are taken into account when preparing the implementing measures.

The implementing measures are approved by a directive of the head of the Agriculture and Food Board.

The cost of facilities and procedural expenses related to complying with the implementing measures (e.g. collection and analysis of samples, inspection of a herd, vaccination against rabies) are covered through national public funding. The keeper of an animal is obligated to ensure facilities for complying with the implementing measures (e.g. restraining the animal, ensuring the safety of the performer of the implementing measures, access to the object of supervision) and the necessary transportation costs.

The implementing measures of the national infectious animal disease control programmes include the scope of vaccinations and diagnostic testing and planning of herd inspections.

Vaccinations mainly include the vaccination of wild animals (foxes, raccoon dogs) and domestic animals (cats, dogs) against rabies.

The aim of diagnostic testing is to ascertain the possible occurrence of infectious diseases, verify their non-occurrence in Estonia, and ensure the protection of human health from diseases which are common for both animals and humans (e.g. salmonellosis) if a disease is discovered.

The following infectious animal diseases are subject to diagnostic testing:

  • certain especially dangerous infectious animal diseases (e.g. bird flu, swine fevers, bluetongue);
  • infectious diseases which require testing to declare the country free of an infectious animal disease (e.g. leucosis) or to retain such status (e.g. brucellosis and tuberculosis);
  • infectious diseases which are also infectious for humans (e.g. salmonellosis, trichinellosis);
  • other infectious animal diseases (e.g. the Schmallenberg virus) which may result in significant losses for an animal holding (decrease in production, reduction in fecundity, increase in abortions and stillbirths, etc.)

Animal holdings are inspected regularly. The inspections are carried out by animal health supervisory officials of the Agriculture and Food Board. A control report is always prepared for the inspections and the animal holding receives a copy.

Each year, the Agriculture and Food Board collects data on the implemented measures to analyse them and gain an overview of the situation of infectious animal diseases in Estonia.

The situation of infectious animal diseases in Estonia can be considered good thanks to the measures implemented over the years. Especially dangerous infectious diseases have occurred rarely, and we have successfully managed to keep the spread of infectious diseases under control.

There have not been diagnoses of bovine tuberculosis and caprine brucellosis for a very long time; the last cases of bovine brucellosis occurred in the 1960s. Estonia has officially been declared free of bovine, ovine, and caprine brucellosis and of bovine tuberculosis.

Bovine leucosis was a serious problem in the second half of the previous century, when nearly half of the bovine animals in Estonia were infected. The spread of the disease is now under control and only a few individual infected animals have been discovered.

BSE (so-called mad cow disease) has never been diagnosed in Estonia.

The most common diseases diagnosed in Estonia are salmonellosis, trichinellosis in wild animals, and, in rarer cases, leptospirosis.

Bees have been diagnosed with varroasis and American foulbrood.

The last widespread outbreak of rabies in Estonia occurred in 1968, when the disease spread over the entire country with foxes and raccoon dogs. Since that time, hundreds of domestic and wild animals have died from rabies each year. The situation related to this disease was the most severe in 2003, when laboratory testing found rabies to be the cause of death of 816 animals.

Thanks to the oral vaccination of wild animals against rabies carried out over the years, we have managed to stop the spread of rabies. The last case of rabies which could directly be associated with the spread of the disease among the animal population in Estonia occurred in March 2008 in Harju county. The very last case of rabies in Estonia was diagnosed in January 2011, when an infected raccoon dog was found in Värska rural municipality in Põlva county.

Owing to the geographic location of Estonia, rabies can never be considered a thing of the past and therefore, the oral vaccination of wild animals against rabies will be continued along the country’s borders to stop the spread of the disease. Vaccinating pet animals is also mandatory.

In 2013, Estonia declared itself free of rabies under the OIE rules.

Last updated: 15.12.2020