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College Responds to the Threat of Foreign Animal Disease
by Kelly Coleman

Every day thousands of people and animals or animal products enter Illinois through O'Hare International Airport. With the potential for a foreign animal disease outbreak beginning in our state, the College has moved to increase biosecurity here, has worked with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and supporting agencies to coordinate an emergency action plan, and has put the focus on educating the public about disease transmission.

At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, signs on exterior doors advise clients to report recent overseas travel to the admissions staff. Everyone—from maintenance workers performing their duties to prospective students touring the facilities—is screened. Anyone who has traveled in prohibited countries in the previous 14 days cannot enter the hospital—nor can their cloven-hoofed animals be admitted.

[Dr. Larry Firkins (at right) at the cattle farms with workers Joe Lieb and Andrew Swartzentruber]]

Dr. Larry Firkins (at right), director of the College research stations, discusses a research protocol for a cattle study with workers Joe Lieb and Andrew Swartzentruber.

(Prohibited are all countries not identified as free of foot and mouth disease by the Office International Des Epizooties on its Web site: www.oie.int/eng/info/en_fmd.htm.)

Restrictions were also enforced at the College's annual Open House on April 7, and special seminars and literature were offered to educate the public on foot and mouth disease, mad cow, and other public and animal health issues recently in the news.

Because Illinois is vulnerable to an outbreak of an emergency animal disease (EAD), with the possibility of thousands or even millions of livestock in the state affected, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and supporting agencies, including the University, have coordinated an emergency action plan. The University's responsibilities within the plan are to make available Extension personnel, especially livestock specialists; faculty and staff; and students, on a volunteer basis, to assist in controlling and eradicating an EAD.

Dr. Larry Firkins has been working with the state for the past three years in developing the Illinois Emergency Animal Disease Response Plan. Dr. Firkins is an assistant professor of veterinary pathobiology, director of the College research stations, and swine Extension veterinarian.

"The key to the entire plan is the ability or willingness of the owner to quickly report symptoms to their local veterinarian," Dr. Firkins says.

If a veterinarian suspects an animal has an EAD, the veterinarian will immediately report the case to Dr. Richard Hull, state veterinarian with the IDOA. Dr. Hull will have samples from the animals in question sent to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture off the coast of New York.

The home farm of the animal would be quarantined until a diagnosis is confirmed, and a confirmed diagnosis would put the emergency response plan into full effect. Infected animals would be appraised, euthanized, and destroyed, and the entire area would be disinfected. People would not be able to leave the area within a 3-mile radius while the quarantine is in place.

Two mock disasters have been staged by the IDOA to allow agency representatives to strengthen the plan.

Veterinary practitioners will play a key role in identifying and handling an outbreak by being alert to out-of-the-ordinary symptoms. Symptoms of foot and mouth disease, for example, include lameness, drooling as the result of blisters in the mouth, and general indicators of sickness, such as fever.

Veterinarians are also key in educating their clients about foreign animal disease transmission.

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