Real Time Data Real Time Data

The rapidly changing face of parasitic disease in the UK and the importance of real time data

The distribution of many parasitic diseases and their vectors in the UK is very fluid with rapidly changing distributions of endemic parasites such as Angiostrongylus vasorum and Lyme disease but also the establishment of endemic foci of novel pathogens such as Babesia canis in Essex. Increased pet travel and importation is also seeing a rise in cases of exotic parasites from abroad.

The last 12 months has seen the first recorded cases of Dirofilaria repens (skin worm) and Thelazia callipaeda (eye worm) in the UK and ESCCAP UK & Ireland has been alerted to 12 separate cases of Linguatula serrata (nasal pentastomid) in dogs imported from Romania. All three of these parasites are zoonotic with the potential to establish in the UK and likely represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of more serious pathogens that may arrive on our shores including tick borne encephalitis and Echinococcus multilocularis.

Large scale peer reviewed prevalence and incidence studies of parasitic distributions in the UK such as the Big Tick Project are essential to monitor long term trends, and to gather data regarding where pets and owners may be at higher risk of exposure. Peer reviewed case reports are also vital to describe parasitic disease presentations and record where novel parasitic diseases are originating in imported and travelled pets. Peer review however, takes time and as papers and reports emerge, they represent important but historical data.

Real time data through the ongoing recording of cases and parasite vectors seen in practice is therefore also important to give veterinary professionals and those involved with parasite control and advice, information on what is happening now. While this data cannot give absolute prevalence or incidence data it can build up a picture of where parasites and their vectors are this week or this month, and advice be rapidly tailored as a result.

The Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) is an initiative from the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the University of Liverpool. Its key aims are to.

  • Monitor disease trends over time and highlight appropriate interventions
  • Identify populations at risk and monitor treatments and outcomes
  • Provide data resources for academics and others
  • Improve public awareness of small animal diseases and prevention
  • Provide a route to clinical benchmarking for vets in small animal practice

It achieves this by monitoring clinical data in real-time in order to identify trends that might indicate outbreaks of infectious disease or an occurrence of new diseases in pet populations in a timely manner. Data from veterinary practices registered to the scheme is collected immediately on completion of each veterinary consult and data from laboratories are collected either daily, monthly or quarterly depending on the laboratory involved. Data collected in this way needs to be interpreted with caution because it only represents the number of positive test results for a given disease rather than the absolute number of animals being tested, but it allows real time data to be accessed for diseases and vectors in a particular Geographical locale and whether risk is increasing or shifting over time. This is invaluable in informing Veterinary professionals and pet owners as to regional risks so appropriate parasite control measures can be put in place.

This pool of data has also allowed peer review analysis to complement larger studies or generate data in fields where little information currently exists. The passive surveillance of ticks from pet electronic health records has generated a window into tick distribution and seasonality in the UK ( This complements large scale national studies such as the Big Tick Project and allows rolling recording of data to see if seasonality and distributions are changing over time. Data has also been generated on fly strike in rabbits ( emphasising its seasonal nature and raising awareness among both Veterinary professionals and owners

ESCCAP UK & Ireland recognises the importance of real time data and encourages Veterinary practices across the country to engage with SAVSNET. Real time data on a wide variety of diseases is available on their website ( and by enrolling to the scheme practices may contribute to this rich pool of information.


As the risk of parasitic disease increases so must our flexibility in gathering data so we can put evidence based control programs in place and be ready for what is likely to arrive on our consulting room table today and tomorrow.

Written by Ian Wright BVMS BSc MSc MRCVS, Head of ESCCAP UK & Ireland