The UCD Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA)

The UCD Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA) is the national resource centre for veterinary epidemiology in Ireland, located within the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine. The Centre was initially established as the Tuberculosis Investigation Unit in May 1989, under the direction of Professor John D. Collins, but in recent years has broadened its remit to cover a wide range of international, national and local animal health matters.

In 2004, the Unit was renamed the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA) operating under the direction of Professor Simon J. More, following the retirement of Professor Collins.  UCD CVERA conducts research on a wide range of issues relating to animal health and welfare, and to public health. In each case, the unit’s aim is to provide high-quality, independent, peer reviewed scientific information upon which sound policy decisions can be made.

About CVERA

The Centre is staffed by UCD and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) employees, and provides scientific services in support of a wide number of stakeholders working in animal health & welfare and public health.  UCD CVERA staff work closely with national policy-makers, both in government and industry. In collaboration with staff from the UCD College of Health and Agricultural Science, UCD CVERA staff also contribute to on-farm animal health investigations throughout Ireland. A broad range of expertise is represented within the Centre, including epidemiology, database development and management, geographic information systems, statistics, veterinary medicine and agriculture & animal sciences.

The Rationale for CVERA

The work of CVERA should be seen in the context of the increasingly complex animal health challenges that are being faced, both in Ireland and within the EU more broadly:

  • ongoing and increasing animal health threats to Ireland as a consequence of multiple global challenges, including antimicrobial resistance, climate change, geopolitical instability and the increasing movement (both controlled and otherwise) of people, animals and animal products.
  • increasing focus on product quality, including an explicit national focus on high value products and markets. Animal health is a direct contributor to product quality, but is also important for international trade of animals and animal products.  The international trading environment is also becoming more competitive, particularly as a consequence of recent and ongoing international events, including Brexit.
  • Ireland is facing, and reacting to, the demand for increased agricultural output. There is an increasing opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby meet EU and other commitments, through increased efficiency, in terms of production per animal, brought about by improved animal health. Animal health status also directly impacts farm income and animal welfare.

Given this context, there is a critical need for high quality, independent scientific research and advice to support evidence-based policy making in animal health & welfare and public health by the DAFM and the wider stakeholder community.  There is also an increasing awareness that a robust science base is needed to underpin decision-making when faced with complexity or uncertainty. ‌

CVERA’s Work

CVERA works in close collaboration with DAFM policy and with scientists from a range of institutions, both in Ireland and internationally. The work of CVERA covers three broad areas:

  • Regulatory animal diseases, as overseen by DAFM. Areas of concern include the control or eradication of endemic animal diseases, primarily bTB but also bovine spongiform encephalopathy and bovine brucellosis.  CVERA also contributes to preparedness for and response to exotic animal disease threats.
  • Non-regulatory animal diseases. In recent years, CVERA has provided services in support of national programmes managed by Animal Health Ireland (AHI), including the eradication of bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), Johne’s disease (JD) control and improved milk quality.
  • Other animal health & welfare issues. This includes work addressing a diverse range of issues including animal welfare (relating to cattle, horses and pigs), marine animal health (farmed salmon and oysters), on-farm antimicrobial usage, concerns relating to cadmium exposure in cattle, and veterinary ethics.

The following two case studies illustrate the work of CVERA:

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CVERA has been an important contributor to the national bTB eradication programme for many years, focusing on three broad strands of research, including cattle-to-cattle transmission, transmission of infection from wildlife to cattle, and research relevant to the programme more broadly. We now have a much clearer understanding of reasons for local persistence, either in a herd or locality, and of the relative contribution of infection from neighbourhood sources (wildlife, farm-to-farm) and from residually infected cattle. There is ongoing work to improve the effectiveness of both field and abattoir surveillance, and of efforts to clear known infected herds. Although the role of badgers in the epidemiology of Mycobacterium bovis is now clear, there have as yet been few options to limit the drift of infection from badgers to cattle. CVERA and collaborating partners have recently finalised analysis of the Kilkenny badger vaccine project, which is providing critical information on the potential role of badger vaccination into the future. CVERA continues to work closely with scientists in the UK to describe trends in bTB surveillance and control across the five countries of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. CVERA also recently completed a detailed review to highlight lessons learned from the successful Australian bTB eradication programme.

In collaboration with other organisations, CVERA has contributed substantially to the establishment of the national bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) eradication programme, and provides scientific support to its ongoing work. It presented the case for an increasing role of the private sector in national animal health, and played a central role in the establishment of AHI. Subsequent research was undertaken to identify those animal health issues that should be prioritised by AHI, to assessing the current BVD situation in Ireland, and the case for BVD eradication. In recent years, CVERA and partners have clarified the magnitude of PI retention (the retention of persistently infected animals on their farm of birth) and of associated risk factors, and the implications of PI retention for the retaining farm, for neighbours and for the programme more broadly. Recent modelling work conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the Helmholtz Institute in Germany have clearly identified the delays in time to eradication that occur as a consequence of PI retention. CVERA and AHI are also currently finalizing work to quantify the role of Trojan dams in the between-herd spread of BVD virus, and of the potential benefit of measures to mitigate the risk posed by these animals in the national programme.

CVERA, with collaborators, has also published scientific research over the last several years on a broad range of other issues, including:

  • an investigative framework to facilitate epidemiological thinking during herd problem-solving
  • biosecurity in the farmed salmon industry
  • bovine respiratory disease
  • cadmium exposure and consequences for farmed ruminants
  • equine welfare
  • honeybee colony health
  • Johne’s disease control
  • lameness in cattle
  • milk quality
  • mortality in farmed Pacific oysters
  • on-farm animal welfare incidents
  • pig welfare
  • private animal health and welfare standards
  • Schmallenberg virus
  • small animal epidemiology
  • tick-borne parasites of cattle
  • veterinary ethics

The full version of this article originally appeared in the Veterinary Ireland Journal (June 2017)

Further CVERA resources and information are available below: