0, 1, 8, or 2026? How many makes a crisis? (Part 3 of 4)

Laboratory release leads to limited outbreak in England in 2007

Here is the play by play:  The first case was a beef herd in Surrey.  The diagnosis was confirmed August 3.  An immediate nationwide stop movement order on livestock went into effect.  A protection zone extending 3 km (a little less than 2 miles) and a 6.2 mile radius surveillance zone were established.

A second case was found in cattle near the first farm on August 6.  Exports of animals and animal products were shut down.  By August 8 the vaccination contractor was prepared to mobilize.  Vaccination was not authorized at any time during the outbreak.

On September 8 the surveillance zone was lifted per protocol 30 days after culling, cleaning and disinfection of the second premises were completed.  Movement restrictions were lifted.

Within a week of lifting the movement bans, three additional cases of FMD were identified.  Movement restrictions were reintroduced September 11.  It was later determined that the fifth case identified was linked with the second one and was the start of the “second outbreak”.  This case was outside the initial surveillance zone.  How the infection travelled from one to the other remains a mystery.

Three more cases were identified by the end of September, the last one on September 30, exactly 6 years after the last case was found in the 2001 outbreak.

Restrictions on movements were lifted progressively through October according to established risk zones.  All restrictions were removed by the end of December.  Meanwhile England also suffered an incursion of two other foreign animal diseases: Bluetongue and Avian Influenza.

Eight premises were directly affected and lost their livestock.  All other livestock farms were affected, too, making the ramifications of a localized outbreak widespread and costly.

In some respects the government response was greatly improved compared with 2001.  Or maybe it was that speed and spread of the outbreak were greatly improved?

Continued on Part 4 of 4

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0, 1, 8, or 2026? How many makes a crisis? (Part 2 of 4)

One case found in Northern Ireland

Less than two weeks after the diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the United Kingdom in 2001, the slaughter of a herd of sheep was ordered in Northern Ireland.  Animals had been traced as dangerous contacts and were confirmed to have FMD.  Northern Ireland came under virtual “house arrest.”

Not only were farmers directly affected by the prohibition on sales and exports of animals, but the general public felt the effects.  Elections, sports events, and even a protest by the Orange order were postponed or cancelled.

Good luck and good judgment were credited for preventing the situation from getting worse.

Nevertheless, the ramifications of one case were felt deeply and widely in agricultural communities.

Continued on Part 3 of 4

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0, 1, 8, or 2026? How many makes a crisis? (Part 1 of 4)

Foot-and-mouth disease hoax in New Zealand

In 2005 a letter was sent to New Zealand’s minister of agriculture (similar to our federal Secretary of Agriculture) claiming that foot-and-mouth disease had been released on Waiheke Island, a small island just north of Auckland (on the North Island).  While the possibility of the threat being a hoax was considered very likely, steps were taken to immediately communicate with farmers and the public regarding the situation.  Just under a week later a second letter was received by a newspaper.  Shortly after, the threat was officially declared a hoax.  No cases of disease occurred, but the response still required a significant deployment of government resources.

The response to the situation is held up as an example of a good crisis communication (Ch. 7 of Effective Risk Communication: A Message-Centered Approach by Timothy Sellnow and others).  It is interesting that farmers were upset when the media started calling them before they had heard about the situation from the government.  A hotline for farmers to call was established and public meetings were held to facilitate two-way communication about the situation.  Veterinary surveillance was conducted and reporting of suspicious signs was encouraged.  When the threat was confirmed to be a hoax and no signs of disease had been seen, the crisis was over.  While some would say a crisis was averted, my take is that the crisis in this situation did not escalate and was resolved in a short period of time.

If only it was always that easy.

Continued on Part 2 of 4
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Dairy Industry Advisory Committee Public Meeting March 3, 2011

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced a public meeting of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee (Dairy Committee) to review and approve the final recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on policy issues impacting the dairy industry. The meeting will be held via conference call on March 3, 2011, at 1 p.m. EST. You must register by March 2, 2011 to participate. Instructions regarding registering for and listening to the conference call meeting is provided in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of the notice found in the Federal Register Volume 76, Number 32 (Wednesday, February 16, 2011), Notices, Page 8998. Written comments received by March 3, 2011 will be accepted. Visit the committee website for more information. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=about&subject=landing&topic=dia

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Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health (SACAH)

Public participation is the rule for all SACAH meetings. Sign up by email to SACAH.Management@aphis.usda.gov. Comments, suggestions and/or questions for the Committee’s consideration may likewise be submitted.

Committee documentation will be posted on this web site and on FIDO.gov.

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Learning Without Doing

The farmers I work with tend to be “hands-on” types and learn best by doing.  There is a lot to be said for experiential learning–but there are some lessons we are better off learning without doing.  When it comes to maintaining our health and safety and that of our livestock, it is better to learn from others’ mistakes and misfortunes rather than repeating them ourselves.

After every outbreak there are “lessons learned.”  A few years back I asked an Extension colleague in Ireland what he felt were the most important lessons learned from the 2001 FMD outbreak.  His slightly abridged recommendations follow.

From Eugene Hayes, Teagasc, Ireland

1.  Livestock producers must know and understand the risks, threat, precautions, etc.

2.  All livestock producers must be registered.

3.  Ideally all cattle and their movements must be on a computer database—no exceptions!

4.  Use movement permits for all cattle and sheep.

5.  Select an area at random in the state and examine if it is possible to lock down that area as would happen in a real situation.  Where would be the leakages from that area?

6.  Have a list of available disinfectants that are effective against FMD.  Ideally you should have a quantity in secure storage, for when the run starts.

7.  Encourage livestock producers to be vigilant and report anything remotely like FMD.

8.  Have a SWAT team available to deal with a potential outbreak.

9.  Have a support system in place for producers (financial and emotional) in the event of an outbreak.  Let them know this in advance.

10.  Don’t try to hide an outbreak.

How well have we in the US been paying attention to these lessons?  Let me know what you think.

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Global Events Prompt Local Vigilance

Image created by Louis Bedor III

Sometimes I am asked why we should worry about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the US when we have been free of the disease since 1929.  News reports, feature articles, and press releases circulating in recent months provide ample justification.

To illustrate, I have reprinted an abridged recent release from the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) below.

TAHC Officials Urge Awareness of Global Foot and Mouth Disease Threat

AUSTIN – The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) reminds Texas producers, marketers and veterinarians that maintaining a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) free U.S.A. requires constant awareness and vigilance.  Anyone involved with livestock needs to recognize the general signs of FMD and how to report suspicious symptoms. FMD is not contagious to people, but the viral disease that affects cattle, hogs and otheris characterized by the presence of vesicles in the mouth, or on the muzzle, teats and feet. The FMD virus can accidentally be carried on people’s clothing, footwear and vehicles from one farm location to another.

“In today’s world where people travel and trade so much internationally, we need to remember that the introduction of FMD to Texas livestock is an ongoing threat. Producers should always be aware of who’s coming in contact with their livestock and where those people may have been previously,” said Dr. Dee Ellis, Texas’ State Veterinarian. The introduction of FMD would create severe economic and trade implications for Texas producers, added Dr. Ellis.

Vigilance and sound biosecurity practices are the best first-line of defense against FMD. Good practices include:

  • Understanding the animal disease status of foreign countries when visiting farms or ranches
  • Thorough cleaning and disinfection of footwear and other clothing after foreign travel
  • Following USDA APHIS and US Customs & Border Patrol restrictions for import of animal products
  • Controlling international visitor contact with Texas livestock species and agriculture facilities

FMD is present in a number of continents including South America, Africa and Asia, with recent outbreaks occurring in South Korea, Japan and Bulgaria. FMD was last diagnosed on U.S. soil in 1929.

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UK Livestock Disease Nightmare Began 10 Years Ago

Image from Creative Commons Attribution and ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA) by author Fluke

This month marks the 10th anniversary since the diagnosis of FMD in the United Kingdom in February 2001.  Several 10th anniversary articles have been published recently.  Here is one that poignantly describes the pain and the resilience of those affected.


Dr. Steve Van Wie, biosecurity consultant with the AFRI biosecurity project, witnessed the pain of affected farmers first hand.  He turned his experiences into an audio-visual presentation called “Into the Valleys of Death.”  That presentation is what convinced me that we need to bring preparedness discussions to the farm level in addition to continually improving our state and federal prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

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Behind the 8-ball

In a highly contagious disease event, our official response personnel would be behind a very large 8-ball because the disease moves ahead of our ability to detect it.  Everyone needs to recognize that the moment a case of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed, more would be incubating.  It can take days to weeks for signs to be recognized and reported.  In some animals, like sheep, signs may be minimal.  Disease may go unnoticed and inadvertently spread to other susceptible livestock.

Farms will be affected by the official response whether they are part of an eradication campaign, a vaccination campaign, or a changing landscape of movement restrictions and biosecurity requirements.  Even farms far outside of the “hot zone” would be affected due to loss of export markets and possibly other product markets.

If people assume because there is a plan that they will be taken care of, they may be in for a surprise.  Dr. Steve Van Wie, biosecurity consultant on the AFRI biosecurity project, has done some investigation of the indemnity rules that would apply.  The value of livestock culled in a disease emergency would be determined based on market value.  How do you think markets would respond to a case of FMD?  (Here’s a hint:  the beef industry is estimated to have lost over $3 billion (3 followed by 9 zeroes) in 2004 following the discovery of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka Mad Cow Disease) in Washington state in December 2003.)  OK, different disease.  FMD doesn’t make people sick.  But do people know that?  (See previous post.)

Our project, rather than duplicating previous and ongoing efforts, complements those by identifying and working to fill gaps in preparedness.  Farmers, by and large, don’t have plans for what to do in the event of a disease disaster and their communities don’t have plans for how to support local farmers.  Filling those gaps is the crux of our project.

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FMD closes South Korea markets

South Korea was unable to shake off foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in 2010.  As the third outbreak of the year continues into 2011, the cull in South Korea has now surpassed the total of the 2002 outbreak (160,000) by 4-fold, reaching over 660,000 animals.  One report stated, “The animal disease has effectively spread across the country despite extensive quarantine efforts.”  My conclusion, the disease had spread widely before quarantine efforts began.

Eighty-four livestock markets in a country half the size of New England were closed as of late December to stop the spread of disease in this round which began at the end of November.  By early January 2011, vaccination of susceptible livestock began.

Quick quiz:

Q1: Will quarantine of infected premises stop the spread of FMD?

Q2: Will other infected premises be found after quarantine and stop movement orders are put into effect?

Meanwhile, in the western hemisphere, efforts to eradicate FMD continue.  The chief of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Bernard Vallat, believes “the Americas, with political will and necessary resources, can realize eradication of the disease.”  When you think about the countries of Central and South America where FMD is still endemic–Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela–the truth of Vallat’s words become obvious, particularly the reference to political will.

Quiz answers:

A1: From the quarantined premises, yes.  From undiscovered premises, no.  Disease will already have had time to spread by the time a farm is quarantined.  Regional stop movements and enforcement of effective cleaning and disinfection are likely to be more effective in stopping the spread of disease.

A2: Yes.  It is very important to realize the moment disease is found on one farm, it has very likely spread to others.  The trace back/trace forward investigation conducted on identified farms is critical to quickly bringing the disease under control.  The linkages from infected farms can determine the size of control zones and influence the consideration of other control measures.

Recognition of this last point and willingness to cooperate by voluntarily implementing strict biosecurity by owners of susceptible livestock farms is needed to contain such a highly contagious disease.

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