An overview on Biosafety and Biosecurity

Infectious agents and toxins found in animal populations and animal products are a considerable and on-going threat to animal health, agricultural economies, food security, food safety, and public health. In general, most epidemics and food contaminations occur naturally. However, there is also a real risk of introduced diseases into susceptible human or animal populations due to a deliberate or accidental release of an infectious agents or toxins. So, biosafety and biosecurity are critical components of all systems addressing animal health and production. Biosafety and Biosecurity are not synonym, and their implementation should be based upon science and follow a risk assessment approach which considers current scientific knowledge, and being conducted in accordance with the described procedures for risk assessment.

Defining Biosafety and Biosecurity

Biosafety has multiple accepted definitions depending on the involved discipline (veterinary, food, medical, environmental, or space science), linguistic roots or even the country in which it is used. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with “biosecurity”, although this in itself has many different definitions.

Biosecurity: The Foundation of Health Programs

Biosecurity is the cornerstone of health programs and should be implemented in all areas of animal husbandry. It is used to prevent and control disease, and includes measures that influence pathogens’ transmission. These measures can be grouped into two main intervention areas: 1) External biosecurity measures, that aim at preventing pathogenic agents from entering or escaping a population; 2) Internal biosecurity measures, which focus on reducing the potential spread of pathogenic agents within a population.

Global Standards and Practices

According to WOAH “World Organisation for Animal Health”, Biosecurity refers to a set of managerial, behavioural, and physical measures designed to reduce the risk of introduction, establishment and spread of pathogenic agents to, within and from an animal population. It aims at limiting the spread of infection. Biosecurity measures consider all epidemiological aspects of the disease such as resistance of the pathogen in environment, routes of transmission and excretion, farming systems and health situation of the territory. The risk assessment should identify and assess the likelihood and possible pathways for entry, spread, or release of pathogenic agents from the country, zone/compartment, or facility.

Implementing Effective Biosecurity Measures

As preventive measures aim for mitigating the risk of disease spread, they target to the main potential routes of pathogen transmission. So, understanding disease transmission pathways is central to establish proper biosecurity protocols. Animals and their products are the main source of infection for most diseases, infections spread through multiple different routes. Animal-to-animal contact and contact with contaminated fomites are some of the most common transmission routes.

A Closer Look at Biosafety

Concerning Biosafety, it describes the principles and practices for preventing unintentional exposure to biological materials, or their accidental release. Laboratory accidents can have serious and catastrophic consequences, and involve occupationally acquired infections among laboratory workers or biocontainment breaches that result in dangerous pathogens escaping into community. They pose a threat not only to human population, but also to animals, plants, economies, food security, biodiversity and the ecosystem. It is worth remembering that the source of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic remains still undetermined, but fears persist around the possibility of being originated from a laboratory accident.

Collaborative Efforts and Research for Enhancing Biosafety

In meeting its mandate to improve veterinary public health, and animal welfare, WOAH has seriously taken threats posed by accidental and deliberate release of animal pathogens from laboratory facilities. Chapter 1.1.1 of the Diagnostic Manual refers to the management of veterinary diagnostic laboratories and biological risks associated with operation of a laboratory. Additionally, the WOAH, in partnership with WHO and Chatham House, collaborated on the Biosafety Research Roadmap (BRM). The objectives of the BRM were to perform a gap analysis for a selected list of priority pathogens on procedures related to diagnostic testing and associated research for those pathogens, including sample processing, testing, animal models, tissue processing, necropsy, culture, storage, waste disposal, and decontamination to support the biosafety practices commonly used while handling the specified priority pathogens.

The Need for Evidence-Based Strategies

In conclusion, lack of evidence-based information regarding potential biological risks can result in inappropriate or excessive biosafety and biosecurity risk-reduction strategies. Developing a reliable workforce that is competent and confident to work in a laboratory with infectious materials is the cornerstone of biosafety. Training and exercises are to be scheduled to practice procedures and periodic self-assessment and review of standard operating procedures. Reporting and documentation of biosafety or biosecurity incidents and breaches involving pathogenic material will automatically trigger a re-assessment of the laboratory bio risks. It is desirable for those working in research to support these initiatives to provide a sustainable basis for the future and avoid perpetuating obsolete practices.

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