Farmer behavior, especially vaccine uptake or other preventative measures, is critical to how effective responses are to livestock disease outbreaks, such as foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis, and bovine viral diarrhea. A study published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine has shown how differences in farmer behavior can affect controlling the scale of disease outbreaks.
INSIGHTS FROM CATTLE FARMERS
The research team interviewed 60 cattle farmers from around the UK, investigating the farmer’s vaccination decisions in an unfolding fast-spreading epidemic. The study found that prompt vaccination uptake was associated with high trust in the Government plans for disease control and having enough time and money to control the disease.
INTEGRATING BEHAVIORAL DATA INTO DISEASE MODELS
The team then incorporated this information into a mathematical model for the whole of the UK and studied how having knowledge of farmer behavior may impact disease outbreak predictions, compared to circumstances where differences in farmer behavior were ignored.
ENHANCING DISEASE CONTROL STRATEGIES
The researchers, based at Warwick’s Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER) and from the University of Nottingham, have demonstrated the usefulness of modeling that has both epidemiological and socio-behavioral elements. The study reveals how omitting the diversity in individual farmers’ disease management plans for livestock infections can hinder assessments of the likely national outcomes.
POLICY IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
The value of the behavioral insight highlighted in this research could be extremely helpful in planning and administering national disease control strategies, enabling policymakers to determine the scale and cost of future livestock disease outbreaks more accurately.
Dr Ed Hill, from the Warwick Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, who co-authored the study, said: “Our quantitative study explores veterinary health associated behaviors, capturing individual and contextual factors. These data allow differences in farmer disease-management behaviors to be included in models of livestock disease transmission, which can help to inform veterinary health decision making.”
Co-author, Dr Naomi Prosser from the University of Nottingham, added: “Understanding the specific factors associated with different behavioral responses of farmers to disease outbreaks will allow improved design of disease control strategies by taking these factors and the expected behavioral differences into account.”
Dr Hill added: “This pilot study has shown the power and necessity of combining epidemiological predictions with an assessment of farmer behavior. More work is now needed to understand how farmer’s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs – and therefore their likely behavior – will change over time. We also interested in understanding how behaviors are influenced by policy, advice and the actions of neighboring farmers.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR CONTINGENCY PLANNING AND POLICY
The researchers, from the Universities of Warwick and Nottingham, say that the behavioral differences reported in the paper need to be taken into account when contingency planning or developing policy for future outbreaks.