Interview, May 2013

B. I. Kontos

Professor of Veterinary Public Health and Dean,

National School of Public Health



Is there a field within veterinary public health and zoonoses that you are most attracted to? If so, which one and why?

Certainly yes and more specifically the arthropod-borne diseases because they comprise a group of zoonoses that reveal the whole wisdom of nature and human’s mistakes.  Arthropod-borne diseases are related to the maintenance of the ecosystem’s harmony. In other words, people, animals  that are the reservoir for pathogens, and the arthropod vectors are in a constant, alert, symbiosis, and stay in balance within a given specific environment. Any intervention or alteration of the ecosystem by humans has a consequence that can include an increase in these diseases.


Can you offer a prediction about the future regarding zoonoses?

Do you predict any changes in the ‘map’ of these diseases?

The vast majority of infectious and parasitic diseases of humans derive from the animal kingdom in general. In connection with the previous answer, human’s penetration into the depths of the natural environment, of so-called ‘wildlife’ and its displacement, leads to an immunologically ‘virgin’ human versus unknown ‘harmless’ or forgotten pathogens, which provides the means for their survival.
Consequently, because of today’s overall environmental changes, the incidence of zoonoses is expected to rise.


In which way do you believe that regular preventive visits to a  veterinarian by animal owners would be better, in order to protect their animals and also themselves and the public in general from zoonoses such as rabies and  leishmaniasis?

I have repeatedly said that the veterinarians in everyday practices, not only those involved in veterinary public health, help towards preventive medicine by advising pet owners about a number of diseases that affect domestic animals and can be transmitted to humans, such as toxoplasmosis, leishmaniasis, dermatophytosis, sarcoptic mange and nowadays rabies.


What problems do you believe may exist and how can co-operation between veterinary and health services be improved for better control of zoonoses?

The problem of interdisciplinary co-operation and resolution of malfunctions at the level of public health services is a major issue world-wide.  The expansion of scientific knowledge and expertise has led to a fragmentation of health sciences, mainly because of occupational interests that result in the formation of ‘spheres of influence’ and loss of overall knowledge. Nowadays, internationally, concerns are being raised regarding the understanding and prevalence of a ‘One Health’ dogma, mainly confronting public health issues. To sum up, I would say that training has prevailed over education regarding health issues.


What measures do you believe are essential for confronting the recent re-emergence of rabies in Greece?

In brief: (a) systematic vaccination of small animals (dog-cat); (b) per os vaccination of rats, foxes and stray dogs; (c) drastic reduction of the fox population; (d) increasing passive and/or active surveillance, mainly in enzootic areas of Greece.


Greece is probably the most endemic country in the European Union as far as brucellosis is concerned.  It is usually an occupational disease, although it is not uncommon in the general population following consumption of dairy products that have not been properly processed.  In what way should the disease be prevented, given that the economic crisis impedes the proper implementation of appropriate veterinary programs for brucellosis eradication?

Dear colleague, let me say some more words about brucellosis.  Animal brucellosis is a ‘painful’ story.  Poor ‘but honest’ Greece had achieved control of the disease to a large extent.  However, the rising high number of sheep and goats (estimated to be approximately 12 million animals) on the one hand, and on the other the ‘dominance of economy over politics’ long before the economic crisis (early 1990s), and of course the ongoing crisis you have mentioned, has resulted in an increase in disease incidence in both animals and humans.  Since the late 1990s, as a result of the Olympic Games along with the ‘pseudo epidemic’ of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a surveillance and vaccination program for the disease in animals has been implemented.

Nowadays, the abolition of the General Directorate of Veterinary Medicine at the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, along with inadequate manning of state veterinary services, points to a non-optimistic outlook for the future.

Accordingly, HCDCP should systematically and continually educate the public about consuming pasteurized dairy products and adequately cooked food, which constitute the cornerstone of public health protection measures for brucellosis.

Edited by George Dougas, HCDCP