No Laughing Matter
Dr. Susan Kerr
WSU NW Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist
I recently attended a professional development conference with colleagues from all over the U.S. In addition to presentations, exhibits, discussion groups, committee work, and educational poster sessions, attendees could select from a variety of tours to farms and other sites of agricultural interest. I chose to go on a sustainable agriculture tour that featured family farms with diversified agricultural enterprises.
As you can imagine, the tour was engaging, educational and enjoyable--until a little throw-away comment from a poultry and livestock producer, that is. This tour took place in a state affected quite heavily by the recent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak. The farmer told us his farm was located in the disease surveillance zone and just ¼ mile from the quarantine zone (Figure 1). “If we were within the quarantine zone, I have other farms outside the zone I could have moved my birds to.” He laughed. Most of the people on the tour laughed along with him.
Figure 1. Illustration of infectious disease outbreak control zones. Specific distances prescribed by each zone depend on the disease-causing agent, its means and ease of transmission, weather, geographic variables, and many other factors. Depending on the disease, actions inside the infected/exposed zone might include euthanasia of all affected and exposed members of given specie(s) or just stop movement orders with close monitoring. Vaccination zones may be added to either contain a disease or protect animals from it.
Simplified from USDA APHIS resource.1
This laughter was very disheartening to hear. Outbreaks of highly-contagious infectious diseases of animals or people are no laughing matter. They cause pain, suffering, death, economic hardship and social upheaval, some of which is preventable by prompt and conscientious human intervention. According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the ongoing outbreak of HPAI is responsible for the loss (death, early slaughter, or euthanasia for disease control; see Photo 1) of more than 48,091,293 chickens and turkeys throughout the U.S. from mid-December 2014 to mid-June 2015.2 There have been 223 detections—20 in backyard flocks and 203 in commercial flocks.2 In WA and OR, all affected flocks have been backyard flocks. In Iowa alone, the HPAI outbreak is blamed for the loss of 8,500 jobs and $427M in taxes and income.2 Unlike poultry producers, American consumers are not experiencing the billions of reduced income from lost export markets, but have certainly noticed substantially-increased prices of retail poultry and eggs, which is predicted to last for up to three years.3
Photo 1. Not funny: mortalities in Iowa laying hen house. Photo taken through impervious plastic protective covering.
Courtesy Mark Hutchinson, U. of Maine Extension.
Back to the laughing farmer: so what’s the big deal? What harm can moving a few animals around during a disease outbreak cause? Moving animals during an outbreak—especially between control zones—delays disease diagnosis, interferes with identification of infected premises, subverts efforts to contain the disease, spreads the disease to more animals, and ultimately increases the outbreak’s economic impact. A 2011 economic analysis of the effects of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in California estimated that after a three-week delay in detection, every added hour of delay would result in 2,000 more animals having to be slaughtered for disease containment and $565 million more in financial losses4 for farmers, farm workers, local businesses, etc. Every hour.
Like Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot by watching. Here in the U.S., we watched with great sadness as the U.K. suffered through a devastating outbreak of FMD in 2001. We are no smarter than amoebae if we are unable to learn from that horrific event. Early detection, early diagnosis, and early containment are the best hope for minimizing the impact of a high-impact contagious disease. A three-day delay in issuing a “stop movement” order in the U.K. during the FMD outbreak is cited as the cause of 2026 premises being involved (and depopulated of animals) vs. the estimated 977 premises that would have been involved if a stop movement decree was issued on the day of FMD diagnosis.5 That’s a difference of a lot of preventable suffering and hardship, including 80 farmer suicides attributed to the FMD outbreak and its aftermath.
Instead of moving animals to be one step ahead of a quarantine line, what is a responsible farmer to do in the event of a disease outbreak, or even better, before?
• Get educated and stay informed: what diseases should you be concerned about and what are their signs?
• Monitor animals closely—early detection of contagious disease is the best hope of control
• Practice scrupulous biosecurity actions. These will serve you well during a foreign animal disease outbreak as well as domestic diseases such as equine influenza, Johne’s disease, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, canine parvovirus, winter dysentery and so many more. Plus, good sanitation simply reduces disease frequency and spread
• Abide by all official disease-control measures in effect during an outbreak
• If you see something, say something. Call your veterinarian and/or state animal health officials if you see signs of illness that concern you.
FMD example: if you see a blister on a cow’s tongue or the coronary band of a sheep or see a goat drooling for no reason or a lame pig with a fever, call your veterinarian and talk it over. Don’t hide the animal away in a back shed and hope everything blows over in a few days. If one animal is displaying signs of FMD, all the others have already been exposed and you are delaying diagnosis of the problem and creating a bigger depopulation zone. The result will be the same for the infected premises in the long run with millions in collateral damage and suffering that could have been prevented by doing the right thing right away. Not only would you hurt yourself with this delay, you would hurt friends, neighbors, and the entire community by not acting quickly.
Despite retail food price increases in the last several years, consumers in the U.S. still enjoy food availability, variety, quality, and safety at prices most other developed countries can only dream of obtaining. Outbreaks of economically-significant diseases such as HPAI, FMD, Classical Swine Fever and other foreign animal diseases would threaten U.S. food security, affect the cost of food, and potentially disrupt transportation and travel corridors throughout the country. In the event of such an outbreak, early detection and close adherence to disease control measures are critical to minimizing the outbreak’s effects.
Subverting disease control strategies is fundamentally un-funny.
References and Resources
1USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Preparedness and Incident Coordination. 2013. Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) Response: Ready Reference Guide—Zones, Areas, and Premises in an FAD Outbreak. www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/emergency_management/downloads/premises_and_zones.pdf.
2USDA APHIS Update on Avian Influenza Findings: Poultry Findings Confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. 2015. http://tinyurl.com/q8zytfg.
3Decision Innovation Solutions. 2015. Economic Impact of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) on Poultry in Iowa. Case study commissioned by Iowa Farm Bureau. www.decision-innovation.com/images/docs/Economic-Impact-of-Avian-nfluenza-on-Poultry-in-Iowa.pdf.
4Carpenter, T.E., J.M. O'Brien, A.D. Hagerman, and B.A. McCarl. 2011. Epidemic and Economic Impacts of Delayed Detection of Foot-And-Mouth Disease: A Case Study of a Simulated Outbreak in California. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 23(1), 26-33. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/104063871102300104
5Haydon D.T., M. Chase-Topping, D.J. Shaw, et al. 2003. The construction and analysis of epidemic trees with reference to the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 270(1511), 121–127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2002.2191