Geni Wren This week’s barfblog by Doug Powell, PhD, Kansas State University, contained an article about how Germany is aiming to shorten the time it takes for information on infectious-disease outbreaks to reach federal authorities. This is a result of the 2011 E. coli outbreak that sickened 3,500+ people.
The first line of surveillance, of course are physicians. But not all physicians are trained to necessarily look for foodborne causes or they may believe it’s an isolated cause versus an outbreak and dont' feel the need to report it up the chain.
The same holds true for foreign animal diseases. Like physicians and human disease, veterinarians are going to be the first to recognize – and then act – on suspected foreign animal disease situations. This is not an area for complacency; we’ve seen Exotic Newcastle Disease in the U.S. and foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks worldwide.
At an Academy of Veterinary Consultants meeting in 2006, English bovine veterinarian Richard Sibley spoke about his involvement with the 2001 FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom where 4 million head of livestock were killed due to the disease. One of the issues in diagnosing the disease on farms was the lack of food-animal veterinarians who were experienced both with livestock as well as clinical signs of foreign animal disease.
Numerous small-animal practitioners were recruited in the effort – some from other countries and non-English speaking – and Sibley noted that these young, inexperienced veterinarians held thousands of animal lives in their decisions, and some herds were depopulated on inaccurate clinical findings.
I’m not saying that small animal practitioners aren’t going to be vital in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak – all veterinarians will be critical – and one area in particular where small-animal practitioners can lend significant expertise is helping to identify foreign animal disease in the exotic pet population that is booming across the country. But in the event of something like an FMD outbreak, food-animal veterinarians who have the most experience and knowledge of livestock will be recruited for the front lines and will be key in identification and response.
A host of foreign animal disease training material are offered online from the USDA including the Gray Book and Mp3 and downloadable foreign animal disease training videos on diseases such as African Horse Sickness, African Swine Fever, Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia, Malignant Catarrhal Fever, Lumpy Skin Disease, Foot and Mouth Disease and Rinderpest.
Various states and universities offer foreign animal disease training courses. Check with your state VMA or veterinary school to find out what might be offered. Some states also have training through programs like the Arizona Livestock Incidence Response Team (read an article about ALIRT in Bovine Veterinarian here.). As the ALIRT’s website says, “not if, but when.”