Why the Good Practice Guide?

This Guide was initially conceived to address an absence of good practice guidelines for veterinary epidemiology.  The lack of such a guide has tended to leave individuals doing such work to 'make their own rules,' resulting in a lack of consistency in the way in which such work is done.  This lack of consistency makes the users of such work - the stakeholders - unable to independently decide on its quality and value in the decision making process.

Having identified an absence of good practice guidelines for veterinary epidemiology, it is also recognised that good practice guidelines are already available that cover some of the activities of veterinary epidemiologists, starting with the BBSRC/DEFRA/FSA/NERC Joint Code of Practice (for a full reference to this and other relevant material see the Bibliography). Wherever possible, reference is made in the Guide to existing material, even if this inevitably leads to some repetition: little attempt is made to avoid such repetition on the grounds that it is better to make a valid point twice than not at all. Indeed, a good outcome would be if diligent practitioners of veterinary epidemiology found nothing new in this entire document and regarded the contents as no more than common sense and common practice. However, the authors believe that there is intrinsic merit in developing codes of practice and we hope that this document will be useful for those new to the discipline, for those seeking to review their working practices and for reviewers and auditors of research output. At the very least, putting these guidelines in a single document provides a useful point of reference.

Many of the issues addressed are not just relevant to veterinary epidemiology. Much of the material presented in the Guide is equally relevant to medical epidemiology and, beyond that, many of the general principles are relevant to any discipline that utilises sophisticated tools for quantitative analysis, such as climate change studies, economic forecasting or environmental risk assessments. A common feature of these disciplines, in addition to their quantitative nature, is that they increasingly involve ‘big science’ with large teams of researchers and collaborators, direct communication with policy makers and other stakeholders and, in some cases, durations longer than the typical research career. The corollary of this is that many different individuals may be involved in data collection, analysis, communication or implementation of the findings. Therefore it is essential that such studies follow strict guidelines so that all those involved understand and have confidence in what has been done in other places or at other times.

What is VTRI?

The Royal Society of London has specifically highlighted that “quantitative modelling is one of the essential tools both for developing strategies in preparation for an outbreak and for predicting and evaluating the effectiveness of control strategies during an outbreak” of disease (Inquiry to Infectious Diseases of Livestock, The Royal Society, 2002). National capacity in quantitative veterinary epidemiology was felt to be limited at the time of that enquiry, although the Royal Society identified several internationally recognised research groups in the UK with relevant expertise. A major problem was that the set of skills used by those groups was often far removed from that used by veterinary clinicians and many clinical researchers, and there were no standardised guidelines for undertaking QVE studies.  This, it was found, resulted in poor or non-existent communication between the different disciplines required in this type of multi-disciplinary work.  Creating a framework for communication within this diverse discipline would help to change the intellectual landscape in the UK, ensuring that quantitative epidemiology is better attuned to veterinary needs, that there is much more clinical input into epidemiological research than has been the case in recent years, and that there is a wider acceptance of the value of quantitative approaches to veterinary medicine.  The UK Government-funded Veterinary Training and Research Initiative (VTRI) was created to address a skills shortage in this area, with one of its sub-programmes, VTRI 0101, focussing specifically on quantitative methods in veterinary epidemiology.  This Guide is an output of that programme.

Who is this aimed at?

This Good Practice Guide is aimed at any scientist, veterinarian, policy maker or member of the public interested in understanding how QVE is best undertaken.

Who authored this report?

  • Mark Woolhouse (Centre for Infectious Diseases and School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Bldg, West Mains Rd, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK)
  • Eric Fèvre (Centre for Infectious Diseases and School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Bldg, West Mains Rd, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK)
  • Ian Handel (Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9PS, UK)
  • Jane Heller (School of Animal & Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia)
  • Tim Parkin (Boyd Orr Centre for Population and Ecosystem Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK)
  • Mike Tildesley (Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Bldg, West Mains Rd, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK)
  • Stuart Reid (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK)


  • Katie Atkins Yale University
  • Mark Bronsvoort Roslin Institute, Edinburgh
  • Margo Chase-Topping University of Edinburgh
  • Rob Christley University of Liverpool
  • Alex Cook Veterinary Laboratories Agency
  • Matthew Denwood University of Glasgow
  • George Gunn Scottish Agricultural College
  • Giles Innocent Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland
  • Mike Lamont Scottish Government
  • Alison Mather University of Glasgow
  • Louise Matthews University of Glasgow
  • George Milne University of Western Australia
  • Fletcher Morgan DEFRA
  • Catherine O’Connor University of Glasgow
  • Michael Pearce Pfizer
  • Jay Santhanam Warwick University
  • Jim Scudamore University of Liverpool
  • Barbara Weiland Royal Veterinary College
  • Julia Yates University of Glasgow
  • and all participants in the Quantitative Veterinary Epidemiology in the 21st century workshop held at Hinxton Cambridge in November 2009.