July 2009
From the State Vet's Office

Foreign Animal Disease Awareness

For the past few years, we have entered into a cooperative agreement with USDA Veterinary Services for Foreign Animal Disease Surveillance.

A cooperative agreement works like this: We (the State Veterinarian and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries) propose a work plan and financial plan, USDA reviews the plans, and either approves them or asks us to make revisions and re-submit. When it is finally approved we follow our work plan and USDA provides the agreed upon financial assistance.

When we began work on this year’s foreign animal surveillance cooperative agreement, we wanted to do something in outreach and education that made a significant impact with livestock and poultry producers across the state. In the first work plan we submitted, we proposed to have four, day-long foreign animal awareness meetings at appropriate locations in the state and invite producers and practicing veterinarians. Lunch would have been provided of course.

However, federal budget cuts caused us to trim down our work plan and budget. We then submitted a plan for only one foreign animal disease producer awareness meeting. When we were asked to make revisions on that work plan, we decided to drop the idea of a meeting and write an article in the Cooperative Farming News. It doesn’t cost us anything, we don’t have to provide lunch and we can reach over 30,000 readers.

(In the spirit of our original intent to have a meeting and provide lunch, you may want to get a sandwich and something to drink. We’ll be right here when you get back.)

As the State Veterinarian, I am often asked to give a presentation concerning foreign animal diseases. That is a request, if at all possible, I will accommodate. Foreign animal disease outbreaks are certainly rare here in the United States. However, they have the potential to cause far more economic damage than a Category 5 hurricane. I generally try to cover three points in my presentations. Those points are recognition, reporting and response. There is a fourth point worth mentioning. That is recovery from a foreign animal disease outbreak. For all practical purposes, it is the first two points, recognition and reporting, that will involve you, the producer. That is where the focus of this article will be.

If you have ever taken any of those self-improvement courses dealing with problem solving, you’ll know the answer to this question. What is the first step in solving a problem? Obviously it is recognizing there is a problem. Problems are sometimes obvious—like getting your leg caught in a bear trap. You need no instructions to recognize you have a problem. On the other hand, some problems are not so obvious and the subtle changes may require a closer look.

· Many foreign animal diseases mimic our "every day" diseases we see in this country on a regular basis. So what are those "red flags" that should raise our alert level? An animal that does not respond to normal treatment would be one of these red flags. African Horse Sickness in its early stages may look like the flu or colic; however, no amount of therapy will change the grave prognosis of this disease.

· Abortions can be caused by more disease entities than I would care to name. In fact, many abortions followed up by laboratory test are not diagnosed. However, abortions are one of the results of many foreign animal diseases.

· Vesicular diseases (diseases causing blisters) are of particular concern to us. The problem is blisters do not remain fluid-filled vesicles for very long. Once the vesicle ruptures and the skin or mucous membrane over the top is gone, the lesion usually looks like an ulcer. Therefore, we are greatly interested in sores in and around the mouth, muzzle, feet and genital areas.

· Large die-offs are usually explainable—at least with some diligent detective work.

· The same consideration is true when a high percentage of a herd or flock becomes sick. On the other hand, foreign animal diseases sometimes cause those same results because our domestic animals have no natural immunity to unfamiliar diseases like those not presently in our country.

· Central nervous system (CNS) signs like incoordination, vocalizing or acting "goofier" than normal may also indicate a foreign animal disease.

If you see any of these signs in your herd or flock, please report them to your local veterinarian, the Federal Area Veterinarian in Charge at (334) 223-7141 or to me, the State Veterinarian, at (334) 240-7253. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reporting any of these warning signs to us only to find out it is not a foreign animal disease. That would be great. I like to compare it to a person with chest pain. He or she may ignore it and be just fine, but on the other hand…….. Ignoring signs of foreign animal diseases may not cause a problem, but it is an issue we cannot afford to be wrong about.