Infectious Diseases

Outbreaks of infectious diseases of livestock have recurred periodically since humans first formed communities and began to domesticate animals. Centuries passed before the interrelated nature of infectious diseases and public health was acknowledged. In the late 17th century rapidly growing populations in European countries were placing unsustainable demands on the locally sourced food supply. Farmers were unable to increase food production to keep pace with demand, thus, importation of animals from other countries augmented the supply and increased the risk of introducing diseased animals. It was not until the mid-19th century in Europe and North America that scientific discoveries in microbiology began to identify the causative agents for some infectious diseases allowing specific management strategies to be developed. Furthermore, it was not until the late-19th century that legislation was enacted by governments in western countries to monitor livestock health and improve public health standards. By the end of the 20th century bacteriologists had identified and isolated many more causative agents of infectious disease outbreaks in humans and animals, though new organisms continue to appear. Well-trained animal health care providers were needed to apply new scientific knowledge to manage the recurring infectious livestock diseases that were creating adverse public health and economic conditions. Further, the evolving body of knowledge about epizootic diseases had to be absorbed into the curricula of veterinary schools and passed to students to use upon graduation into practice.

In the absence of facts about the origins of livestock infectious diseases and the nature of effective treatments, causes and therapies were invented. Infectious diseases of “… man and beast continued for centuries to be regarded as unavoidable punishment for past sins…” (Wilkinson, 1992, p. 3). Prayer was employed along with strange and sometimes unpleasant remedies visited upon animals. Varro, writing in the 1st century BC, recommended the practice of isolating sick animals; he also theorized that small particles were responsible for the epidemics. According to Wilkinson (1992, p. 11), “It will never be known for certain who first introduced the concept of tiny invisible beings as carriers of disease into the literature”. Columella recommended separating the sick animals from the healthy; Vegetius writing 400 years later, agreed. As epidemics recurred over the centuries, there were no effective treatments, that is: no identification of causative agents; no differentiation of symptoms; and no indication that animals and humans could share infectious diseases.

Infectious diseases of “… man and beast continued for centuries to be regarded as unavoidable punishment for past sins…” (Wilkinson, 1992, p. 3)

During the Dark Ages, the literature of rational discourse about the causes of epidemics was buried under the overwhelming influence of the Church championing divine retribution as the cause. Animal care did not advance during medieval times: there was no treatment except extermination of diseased animals: and theories as to the cause of the infectious disease outbreaks were merely opinion and scientifically untested. As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages in the 13th century, agricultural topics written centuries earlier by the Greek and Roman encyclopaedists began appearing in translations although little new information was added. The early 14th century brought suffering for animals and humans through the cattle and bubonic plagues. Throughout Europe the cattle plagues resulted in famines. The bubonic plague of 1347 started in Asia and spread westward. At this time, the links between infectious diseases and public health had not yet been realized. Nor was there agreement about causes of the plagues. Wilkinson (1992, p. 27) notes the “… suspicion that disease agents might be living organisms began to emerge in the following century [17th]".
≤blockquote>Wilkinson (1992, p. 27) notes the “… suspicion that disease agents might be living organisms began to emerge in the following century [17th]"

Leuwenhoek’s work on animalcules seen through a microscope (1683) had been published. Edward Jenner in 1796 developed a method to inoculate humans to cause immunity against smallpox. Lister first used antiseptics in surgery in 1867. An experimental discovery from 1865-67 was the rapid rise in temperature identified as a diagnostic feature of livestock infected with rinderpest. Later experiments showed that animals could be infective before they displayed outward signs of disease. By the 1870s it was known that a micrococcus was the agent - actually a virus that could live outside the host’s body at low or high relative humidity and be sensitive to other environmental conditions (Spinage, 2003, p. 13). Pasteur and Koch in 1870 developed the germ theory of disease and slightly more than a decade later had developed vaccines for anthrax, and rabies (Pasteur) and identified the tuberculosis bacterium (Koch). The fields of microbiology, immunology and bacteriology evolved in response to the work of researchers engaged in identifying bacteria as agents of transmission of infections, cultivating bacteria, and discovering the causes of many human and animal diseases. “By the end of the century [20th century] the causes of anthrax, tuberculosis, glanders, pyogenic lesions, pneumonia, brucellosis and tetanus – all common to man and animals – had been elucidated, whilst the discovery of the organisms of cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, gonorrhoea, cerebrospinal fever, plague, botulism and dysentery, had also reduced the toll of human suffering…” (Pugh, 1967, p. 131-132).

"Pasteur and Koch in 1870 developed the germ theory of disease and slightly more than a decade later had developed vaccines for anthrax and rabies (Pasteur) and identified the tuberculosis bacterium (Koch)"

The effective managing of cattle plague in Britain after 1865 is highlighted in this discussion, because it is a success story of the veterinary profession assembling its resources and being heard. Britain suffered from outbreaks of cattle plague in the 17th and early 18th centuries which were managed by mass slaughter of infected animals and import bans in the face of ineffective health care policies. Veterinarians were experienced in dealing with horses, but less so with other livestock such as cattle, therefore, the government turned to physicians for medical advice. "...surgeons and physicians had done little to help with animal epidemics, so there was little reason to believe that any veterinary personnel, trained or not, could do any better" (McKay, 2009, p. 14). "Apart from Gamgee and Simonds, virtually no practitioner knew anything about rinderpest..." Fisher, 1991, p. 285). Memories of the cattle plague dimmed over decades and restrictions were lifted creating the opportunity for the emergence of the cattle plague of 1865 that devastated the British agricultural economy and drove changes that positively affected public health. During this virulent outbreak, veterinarians were the professionals who diagnosed the first cases of cattle plague in London and it was outspoken veterinarians who kept the issue in the public eye in spite of political opposition. There is some disagreement as to whether it was James Beart Simonds or John Gamgee who was the veterinarian to diagnose the first cases of the 1865 rinderpest outbreak seen in cattle in an Islington, north London, dairy.

John Gamgee never wavered in his view that there was no cure for rinderpest in the 1865 outbreak. "He strongly advocated eradication by slaughter, compensation and the prohibition of stock movements (MAFF, 1965, p. 19). Two acts passed in 1848 to control sheep pox were updated to include cattle and included sweeping powers that had been recommended by some veterinarians but rejected by politicians because of the projected negative effect on the agricultural economy. The outcry "... evoked from graziers, dealers, butchers and importers alike, skillfully played upon by those Members of Parliament committed to strong laissez-faire principles..." ensured once again the defeat of of stronger measures (MAFF, 1965, p. 16). A Veterinary Office of the Privy Council was established late in 1865 to manage the operations of veterinary policing such as: extermination of diseased cattle; controlling importation of animals; and allowing for compensation and making it illegal to sell meat from diseased animals. Implementation of the legislation brought a quick reduction in the number of cases of cattle plague. From 23 February the reported cases were 17,875; in March the numbers dropped to 9,388; and by April down to 4,963. "In the week ending 23 November only eight fresh cases were recorded" (MAFF, 1965, p. 23). The last case of cattle plague recorded was in September 1867 and the "... veterinary profession had been rehabilitated by a grateful nation" (Pattison, 1990, p. 118). Although public discussion had occurred about the causes and remedies for livestock plagues, it was transitory once the rinderpest news moved from the media headlines. "It was really only farmers, veterinarians, medical specialists and people involved in the live animal trade who participated in the debate (Swabe, 1999, p.101). However, the 1865 cattle plague in Britain spurred understanding of “… the immense importance of preventive and suppressive measures in dealing with contagious diseases, contributing more than any other disease to sanitary policing and the progress of veterinary medicine” (Spinage, 2003, p. 4).

The last case of cattle plague was in September 1867 and the "... veterinary profession had been rehabilitated by a grateful nation" (Pattison, 1990, p. 118).

Other infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth diseases (FMD) and pleuropneumonia were also taking their toll on the livestock population and negatively affecting agricultural economies. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was first recorded in Britain in 1839, bovine pleuropneumonia in 1840, and sheep-pox in the 1840s. (Swabe, 1999, pp. 96, 97). Legislation as it developed over time included several epizootics. The prevailing idea was that the importation of diseased animals was the cause of outbreaks because the underlying pathology of infection was still unknown. Thus, the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act of 1869 highlighted improved veterinary policing and applied to cattle plague as well as other diseases such as sheep pox, foot and mouth disease, glanders and pleuropneumonia. Rinderpest or cattle plague was a highly infectious, fever producing and usually lethal disease of cattle that had decimated populations in Europe for centuries. It affected ruminants including cattle, sheep, goats and deer. The last outbreak of Rinderpest was recorded in 2001 and the last vaccination was given in 2006 (FAO, 2018). FMD is a contagious viral disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals that spreads quickly and is rarely fatal although it causes low productivity in infected animals (Woods, 2004, p. 23). Sheep-pox is a virulent viral disease with high mortality and poor quality wool and skins in surviving animals. Seep-pox has been eradicated in Europe although there are infrequent outbreaks, there is no treatment only a preventative vaccine.

Rinderpest in the 19th century spurred understanding of “… the immense importance of preventive and suppressive measures in dealing with contagious diseases, contributing more than any other disease to sanitary policing and the progress of veterinary medicine” (Spinage, 2003, p. 4).

Several veterinarians from Britain with works in the Rosen collection contributed to the public dialogue on the impact of infectious diseases of livestock and some companion animals on public health including James Beart Simonds, John Gamgee, Henry Strickland Constable (politician), George Fleming, and Duncan McEachran, the latter in Canada.

James Beart Simonds (1810-1904) was a researcher, farm animal practitioner, and educator (Chair of Cattle Pathology) at the London school. He was interested in infectious diseases and bacteriology and advised the British government on managing outbreaks. He recognized that diseases could pass through direct contact as well as by contamination of surroundings and in this opinion was a contagionist, in which he agreed with outspoken veterinarian John Gamgee. Simonds also had anticontagionist leanings (disease erupts spontaneously when conditions are right) with the belief that foreign cattle were not a threat to local herds. Simonds' opinion was in opposition to Gamgee's. Worboys (1991, p. 311) nicely explains this contradiction, "It was of course possible to be an anticontagionist with regard to a disease's origins and a contagionist over its spread". In 1847 Simonds examined merino sheep imported from Spain and suspected they were suffering from sheep-pox. He performed experiments to develop a vaccine and recommended measures such as controlling movements among markets, cleansing yards and equipment, and disposing properly of dead animals. By 1850, by following Simond's recommendations sheep-pox had been eradicated in Britain.

".... in three years Simonds recognized, defined and controlled an economically important disease that had not been in Britain for half a century" (Pattison, 1990, p. 44).

In 1857 Simonds travelled to Belgium with William Ernes VS to investigate cattle plague in Europe and its potential for harm in Britain. On his return he allowed that although the cattle plague was distant on the Russian steppes, there existed the possibility that it could be brought to Britain through trade in infected cattle. Simonds reported to a Parliamentary committee about cattle plague. The 1865 outbreak of cattle plague in Britain focussed the attention of the government and agricultural interests on the disastrous scourge and changed the opinion of many anticontagioinists. According to some historians, Simonds was the veterinary inspector who first diagnosed the disease in cattle in an Islington dairy in north London. According to Worboys (1991, p. 311) "... the great cattle-plague outbreak in 1865, which saw a major turn-around in the views of agricultural interests, the government, and the veterinary elite about anticontagionism, veterinary policing, and import controls." Simond’s The Age of the Ox, Sheep and Pig, 1854, is in the Rosen collection, though, not his report to the government on plagues.

John Gamgee (1831-1894) was an outspoken veterinarian on the issue of animal contagion and its management in Europe. He kept the issue of animal disease control before politicians and was prescient in predicting the cattle plague that occurred in 1865 in Britain. After graduating from the London school in 1852, he visited veterinary schools in other European countries over a two-year period. When he returned to London he had an understanding of how infectious disease outbreaks were handled in other countries and could be managed in Britain. He recommended reducing the free trade of cattle into the country, thus, curbing the trade in infected meat. By 1870, scientific evidence had established by experimentation and investigation that microscopic organisms caused many disease of animals and humans, although the miasma theory of ‘poisonous air’ causing disease lingered with some clergy, some veterinary and medical professionals, and the media.

In 1862, Gamgee reported to the British Privy Council predicting forthcoming infectious disease outbreaks in livestock if drastic measures in cattle trade were not undertaken. He further recommended the establishment of a veterinary inspection directorate for the entire country, although veterinary policing alone was not sufficient. "Gamgee believed that epizootic diseases could only be controlled by a total ban on livestock trade" (Worboys, 1991, p. 320). John Gamgee’s principles for preventing animal disease contagion were enforced: slaughter of infected animals; restricted animal movement; disinfection of animal housing; and compensation for loss of animals. In 1865 Gamgee's predictions were confirmed with an outbreak of rinderpest in Western Europe that decimated the British livestock population. It appears almost certain that Professor John Gamgee, who arrived in London on 29 July ... was the first person the diagnose the condition as cattle plague..." and to identify its source as imported cattle (MAFF, 1965, p. 17). The infected animals were traced back to eastern Europe: some had passed through Dutch ports. Reluctantly Gamgee's draconian measures were adopted as the cattle plague continued to rage and caused the Cattle Plague Department to be established in that year, and the Cattle Diseases Prevention Act to pass the following year. The Department became the Veterinary Department in 1870 and was responsible for controls of rinderpest as well as FMD, pleuropneumonia, sheep scab, and glanders (Green, 2013, p. 110).

John Gamgee helped to convene the 1st European Veterinary Congress in Hamburg in1863 that was attended by central European nations which, had a better track record of managing livestock disease outbreaks than either Britain or the Netherlands. The first western European congresses in Vienna in 1865, and in Zurich in 1867, started the conversation about the necessity of publicizing infectious disease outbreaks and developing importation regulations on an international scale. As information was shared and momentum to find solutions to infectious disease issues continued, state intervention and international cooperation followed. Countries could look forward to future success in eradicating and controlling infectious disease outbreaks, not only rinderpest, foot-and-mouth, and pleuropneumonia, but also glanders, scabies, sheep-pox, anthrax, and rabies. More information about the achievements of John Gamgee is found in the Biographies section.

"Apart from Gamgee and Simonds, virtually no practitioner knew anything about rinderpest..." Fisher, 1991, p. 285).

Gamgee and Fleming were proponents of the 'contagion' theory - that disease is spread by contact. Both veterinarians had their detractors - in James Beart Simonds downplaying the threat of foreign cattle entering the country, and in politician Henry Strickland Constable (1821-1909) for having illogical arguments. Constable's book, published in 1866, suggests by its title the stance the politician took to defend "anticontagionism" - Observations Suggested by the Cattle Plague, About Witchcraft, Credulity, Superstition, Parliamentary Reform, and Other Matters. Constable's work is in the Rosen collection.

George Fleming (1833-1901) was Principal Veterinary Surgeon to the Army in Britain and veterinary inspector to the War Office. Unlike Simonds, he supported the 'contagism' theory and urged at a conference on animal vaccination in 1880 that medical doctors needed to learn in medical schools about infectious animal diseases through the study of comparative pathology. On the topic of infectious diseases in animals, Fleming wrote Animal Plagues: Their History, Nature, and Prevention, 1871, and A Manual of Veterinary Sanitary Science and Police, 1875, both in the University of Saskatchewan collection. On other topics, Fleming wrote Practical Horseshoeing, 1st American ed., 1888 which is in the Rosen collection, as well as A Text-book of Veterinary Obstetrics , 1896 and Fleming's Veterinary Obstetrics, 3rd edition, revised by J.F. Craig in 1918 - the latter two titles found in the U of S collection.

The livestock plagues were of little interest to urban dwellers whose concern lay with infectious diseases, especially rabies, which could be observed in animals living in cities and towns. Along with Simonds, Gamgee and Fleming, William Youatt (1776-1847) was another veterinarian with opinions on infectious diseases that scientific research later proved correct. He believed with Delabere Blaine (1770-1845) that rabies was transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. At the time, both men suffered professionally for this view. The Rosen collection contains a parliamentary Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Rabies in Dogs, 1887, and Fact Against Fiction… Hydrophobia and Distemper by Grantley Berkeley, 1874. More information about the achievements of William Youatt is found in the Biographies section.

In North America, Duncan McEachran (1841-1924), Canada’s Chief Veterinarian, advocated Gamgee’s sanitation recommendations although he had to quietly inspect and quarantine animals on ships arriving in the country: the economic consequences of disrupted agricultural trade were too much for the government to openly support animal inspections. By 1885, though, Canada had revised the Animal Contagious Diseases Act that allowed animal diseases to be controlled and eradicated. McEachran worked with Dr. D.E. Salmon, the first chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in the United States. In early 1897, the United States and Canada each successfully passed their own regulations for veterinary certification of live animal importations.

At the time of settlement, the United States was a country without Indigenous species that could be domesticated; bison and wild pigs were unsuitable. In the Americas of the 1490s and into the 1500s explorers brought livestock into the country to support new settlements. By the mid-17th century, several domesticated species had been successfully introduced including: swine and horses in 1538; and the first sheep in 1609 (Bierer, 2014, p. 65). With the importation and settling of domesticated species by the latter half of the 18th century infectious diseases had become troublesome and destructive (Bierer, 2014, p. 70). Rabies was the first zoonotic disease recorded in Virginia in 1753 (Steele, 2000, p. 1813). Serious outbreaks among food animals up to 1884 included hog cholera, bovine abortion, bovine pleuropneumonia, anthrax, mad itch, swamp fever, foot-and-mouth disease, equine influenza, fowl cholera, and ergotism. Glanders, anthrax and tuberculosis - potentially communicable to humans - were rampant (Cass, 1973, p. 421).

The U.S. was a large, sparsely settled agrarian country with a shortage of trained veterinarians to provide animal care. There were neither effective regulations for animal health and welfare nor government officials to enforce them. The U.S. Congress created the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in 1884 in the face of alarming losses of livestock and despairing farmers. The activities of the first hundred years of the BAI involved infectious disease control by eradicating sick and contact animals, and later meat inspection services for public health, and international trade in animals (Steele, 2000, p. 1813). When modern drugs and vaccines became available, the BAI fashioned the present system of disease prevention and surveillance. The BAI remained active until 1954 when its responsibilities for research, meat inspection and disease control were delegated to other federal agencies.

Constable, Henry Strickland. Observations Suggested by the Cattle Plague, About Witchcraft, Credulity, Superstition, Parliamentary Reform, and Other Matters, 1866
Veterinary Sanitary Science
Fleming, George. A Manual of Veterinary Sanitary Science and Police, 1875

Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Rabies in Dogs, 1887

Dependence on Horses
Rural to Urban Movement
Professional Organizations
Animal Care Prior to the 18th Century

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