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Interview : Émilie Gay, Scientific Director of the Epidemiology and Surveillance theme

Émilie Gay, Directrice scientifique de l’axe Épidémiologie et surveillance

We investigate unusual disease peaks, anything out of the ordinary.

Epidemiology and surveillance play an important role in ANSES’s activities. What are they?

Epidemiology can be defined as the study of population health factors, i.e. diseases and anything that contributes to them. Surveillance enables these health factors to be monitored on an on - going basis. The cross-functional scientific theme that I manage supports the Agency’s expert ap - praisal activities, for example on the implications of wastewater reuse or the transmission of tuber - culosis between cattle and badgers, and above all the activities of its laboratories. Our primary objective here is to provide support for public policy-making: detecting and quan - tifying to allow action to be taken. We investigate increases or decreases in health problems, unusual peaks, anything out of the ordinary. These disci - plines require specific methodological develop - ment work.

What role does ANSES play in these areas?

ANSES is closely involved and plays a leading role at national, European and international level. It carries out surveillance activities under the many reference mandates it holds in animal health, plant health, food safety and environmental safety. In each case, it acts as the national reference labo - ratory, assisting the State, official laboratories and surveillance schemes. It provides them with the scientific and technical support needed for the collection, processing, accessibility, transmission and dissemination of epidemiological surveillance data. The Agency works closely with many partners. It contributes to around a hundred national surveil - lance networks and runs five of them, including Resapath (which focuses on antimicrobial resis - tance in pathogenic bacteria of animal origin) and the Salmonella network. It jointly leads the three national epidemiological surveillance platforms for animal health, plant health and food-chain safety, respectively. Lastly, it participates in Euro - pean surveillance.

What are the main challenges facing epidemiology and surveillance?

There are three that I’d like to mention. First of all, improving surveillance. This means having the right tools for detecting threats and raising alerts. We are also keen to contribute to a more integrative “One Health” approach and develop the indicators needed to assess it. There have been numerous methodological developments in the field of surveillance, particularly regarding strategies for sampling and the resulting analyses, and syndro - mic surveillance. A second challenge is how to better identify health risk factors at scales ranging from the animal to the ecosystem. To achieve this, we are studying the impact of predominant and alternative pro - duction systems on animal health and welfare, as well as interactions with wildlife. The third challenge relates to controlling the spread of diseases and health hazards. Predicting them and measuring the impact of management measures is a major issue here. With regard to vaccination, for example, what happens if I vacci - nate my animals? Or isolate them? Statistical and mathematical models are used to support deci - sion-making, mainly to define measures that could stop or reduce transmission. Genetic sequencing data can be used, for example with avian flu, ena - bling us to investigate further. More generally, in both epidemiology and surveil - lance, it is important to exploit methodological and technological innovations such as artificial intelligence and tools for managing big data.