Don’t Forget About Foreign Animal Diseases

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COVID-19 is top-of-mind throughout the world, and for good reason, but other foreign and zoonotic diseases can’t be overlooked. In fact, they can strike when least expected. Viruses like Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) or African swine fever would have a devastating impact on U.S. agriculture if they were to infect U.S. livestock herds. Two state veterinarians had a first-hand look at the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Uganda, and they were justifiably enlightened. 

Justin Smith, state veterinarian in Kansas, and Dustin Oedekoven, state veterinarian in South Dakota, traveled to Uganda through a program sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Thirty-nine FAO-member countries support this type of training and capacity-building, Smith and Oedekoven reported at the 2019 U.S. Animal Health Association annual meeting.

FMD has severe implications for the livestock industry. It is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals, including domestic and wild bovids, sheep, goats, pigs, antelope, deer and bison. The virus causes a high fever lasting 2 to 6 days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. It can be spread relatively easily by infected animals through contact with contaminated equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed, and other domestic and wild animals.

Both veterinarians felt there was value in seeing what other countries were doing to combat FMD, and both saw tremendous value in the online pre-course. They took the same training but were in Uganda at different times. Elizabeth Parker, former AgriLife Research international and strategic partnership specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research coordinated the program. She serves as co-chair of USAHA’s Committee on Global Animal Health and Trade. In March 2020, she was appointed Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate director for operations and strategic initiatives.

“It would be difficult to financially support [a program like this] on a routine basis but we did see value of being on-farm,” Smith said. “Just the ability to work with these folks and learn what they’re dealing with was enlightening.” 

Smith went to the northern part of Uganda while Oedekoven was in the southern part of the country. Here are some of their observations:

•    Smith was in a herd that previously had FMD. He saw active lesions and FMD was confirmed via the chute-side test. 

•    “The timeline of lesion progression was a valuable tool,” Smith said. “It was novel to me and had some merit.”

•    There are 16 million goats in Uganda. The veterinarians learned how the Ugandans approach disease control and prevention.

•    Fences aren’t common, Oedekoven said. “They trim the shrub-vegetation to have a rough delineation of the area where they keep their herds. They don’t have the ability to readily isolate new additions to the herd, which is something that we might consider as a basic biosecurity practice.”

•    The risk of disease transmission due to congregation at local watering areas is not an issue the farmers can easily mitigate, Oedekoven said. “They have some unique challenges. There’s a highway for traffic and there’s a highway the cattle are on,” he said.

Both veterinarians said the training was “eye-opening.” Oedekoven recalled participating in the training with two veterinarians from Slovakia. The first cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Slovakia were reported while those veterinarians were in Uganda, so they were able to take what they learned with respect to disease control and containment, and apply it to their own country’s situation. 

“We’re going to start offering more of these opportunities,” Parker said. “We’re working on accreditation through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.” The program is ongoing, and veterinarians who are interested in participating can get more information here.

“The ability to work with these folks and learn what they’re dealing with was enlightening,” Smith said.

Preparedness for FMD continues in the US, with a boost from the most recent farm bill. More information on foreign animal health initiatives at the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can be seen here.

Related Articles:

Foot and Mouth Disease Preparedness is High Priority

Pigs Can Transmit Foot-and-Mouth Disease Prior to Signs of Infection

A U.S. Vaccine Bank: The Best Insurance Policy to an FMD Outbreak

Low FMD Vaccine Bank Leaves U.S. Pigs and Cattle Vulnerable to Disease

USDA Seeks Comments on Request to Produce FMD Vaccine on U.S. Mainland