If an animal disease breaks out, it is of utmost importance to prevent the further spread of the disease and thus to limit the damage it causes. To this end, comprehensive data must be gathered on potential sources of infection, the infectious period and transmission pathways (e.g. persons, vehicles, animals, animal products and by-products). The required information is collected exploratively in the course of epidemiological outbreak investigations. These data are essential for understanding of the cause of the disease and its ways of transmission and provide important information to adopt adequate control and prevention measures.
The Institute of Epidemiology maintains an Epidemiological Advisory Group comprising several scientists. On the basis of the German Animal Health Act (TierGesG; § 27, 3), this group contributes to the epidemiological investigations conducted after disease outbreaks. It can also advise the competent veterinary authorities in the case of an outbreak with regard to epidemiological issues, e. g. sampling plans, spatial and temporal analysis. To ensure operational readiness, an on-call service is established. The members of the group prepare for their service in regular training exercises.
In the case of an outbreak, the Epidemiological Advisory Group is integrated into the local structures that are established to control the animal disease. For example, members of the group may interview affected farmers using specially developed questionnaires, investigate potential sources and modes of transmission, examine animals clinically, take samples for laboratory testing and collect further data which may be important for the spread of animal disease, (e.g. weather, abundance of wild animals in the region). The results of these investigations are compiled and epidemiologically evaluated. They may contribute to prevent large restriction zones and mass culling of livestock. In any case, the findings improve the state of knowledge regarding the epidemiology of animal diseases.