Scientists at the University of Liverpool are using big data and text mining methods to create a warning system for a devastating disease in pet rabbits and sheep.
Flystrike – or myiasis – is caused by larvae of Lucilia sericata (the green bottle fly) feeding on the surface of the skin. This can cause severe tissue damage that is susceptible to secondary bacterial infections and may result in death of the animal.
Researchers from the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) used electronic health records from over 40,000 rabbit consultations collected from veterinary practices across the UK. Computers were programmed to screen all clinical records for suspect cases of flystrike and these records were read by a human researcher; this approach identified some 300 cases of flystrike among these rabbits.
Rachel Turner, a third year veterinary student who carried out the work as part of her veterinary undergraduate course, said: “By analysing the dates on which rabbits were presented to veterinary practices with flystrike we were clearly able to identify the strong seasonal nature of this devastating disease, with most cases occurring between June and September.
“As well as confirming the seasonality of the disease, we can now use these results to warn owners when to check their rabbits for any signs of flystrike and treat their rabbits to prevent it.”