My name is Deborough MacBeth. I’m the assistant director of nursing for infection control at the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service.
So in the context of a pandemic, really the issue is bringing wild animals close to domesticated animals, which then brings the domesticated animals in contact with humans. And so what can happen is that diseases that are carried by wild animals can be transmitted to domesticated animals, and then our interaction with those domesticated animals can bring us into contact with those diseases as well. And what can happen sometimes is that the disease can jump the barrier from animal to human. So some of the things that have contributed to this over the years are deforestation, land development. Even in Australia, which is a high-income country, we have ongoing requirements for housing.
So we find that land is developed, trees are removed, habitats are changed. And so there we have an opportunity for wild animals to come in close contact with domesticated animals and so forth. One example of that is the Hendra virus that the horses get. So that has been transmitted from horses to humans, but it originated in our wild native bats.
In terms of prevention, we’re not going to stop developing, I guess. So what we have to do is be really vigilant with our contact with animals. I wouldn’t for a second say don’t have contact with animals. I think that’s really important. But just remember the basic hygiene rules around good hand hygiene after you’ve been handling animals. Think really carefully about the animal you’re about to handle and make sure they’re not sick, not demonstrating symptoms of illness. And if they are, maybe think twice about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to approach that animal and whether or not you need to.
So water and food are common source vehicles of disease transmission. What that means is that you and I come in contact with food. We ingest food. We come in contact with water, and we ingest water every day of our lives. It’s part of what we do and what we need to do. If that food is contaminated or the water is contaminated with an infectious disease, then it’s very easy for that infection to spread very quickly to a large number of people in a short space of time. So safe food and safe water supplies are absolutely paramount to our ongoing health and well-being.
Similarly, sanitation is important because if we have poor sanitation, then we run the risk of contaminating our water sources and our food sources. So those sanitation workers are really what keep us going every day.
Vaccination is really important because we have the opportunity through vaccination to prevent disease in the first place rather than having to go through the experience of the disease in order to develop the antibodies that provide our protection. In high-income countries like Australia, we are unfortunately fortunate. We’re fortunate in that we have had vaccination available to us free of charge for many, many years. The downside of that– if you can consider it a downside– is that we don’t see the hideous outcomes of vaccine-preventable diseases commonly. And the unfortunate part of that is that people have forgotten what that looks like and therefore tend to take vaccination not so seriously and think that perhaps it causes harm.
Well, the concept of global citizenship to me means that while I live on a large island and therefore have what is essentially a geographical barrier between myself and what might be happening overseas, the bottom line is that what happens overseas affects me– if not today, perhaps tomorrow. And every single day that barrier that we rely on to protect us is breached over and over again, either by people from other countries coming to visit Australia or by our own citizens returning from overseas travel. We no longer have the luxury of thinking that we can ignore what goes on in other countries.
And what we do have the luxury of doing usually is being able to sit here in Australia and see what’s happening overseas and prepare for it ahead of time. That’s a luxury that many other countries don’t have that we do have. So in terms of preventing disease transmission and our role, I think vaccination, that we’ve already talked about– if you can prevent yourself getting a disease then why would you go through it? But the other more mundane things are probably just as important, if not more important and harder to ingrain in people.
And they are those common hygiene practises– good hand hygiene, preferably before and after you eat, before and after you go to the toilet, before you prepare food, safe food handling, good cough etiquette, maintaining a clean environment around you, and thinking about the fact that we don’t live in a sterile environment. We are surrounded by microorganisms all the time, and some of those microorganisms can cause disease.