Mar 17, 2001 - 12:17 PM
WEEKLY FARM: Simulated Livestock Epidemic Becomes All Too Real
By Philip Brasher
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Three months before Britain's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, top health officials in the United States, Mexico and Canada conducted a dress rehearsal to test their ability to respond to a similar epidemic.
Within four days of a simulated detection of the virus in a small south Texas swine herd, the virus would have spread through 15 Texas counties and Mexico, a scenario that turned out to be eerily similar to the way a real epidemic now is playing out in Europe.
Experts who took part in the exercise last November say it showed how difficult it is to detect the disease quickly, track down exposed animals and assemble veterinarians and others to contain an epidemic. Even logistics - finding enough rental cars, sending e-mail - can be a problem, officials said.
"It's like waging war. You're fighting a virus that is very formidable," said one participant, Beth Lautner, a veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council.
There also is concern about how fast the government could compensate farmers for animals that have to be destroyed. That is important, health officials say, because history has shown that farmers will be more likely to notify their government of an outbreak if they known they will not face economic ruin.
"Continual exercises are the best way to prepare for one of these situations," said Joe Annelli, chief of emergency veterinary programs in USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Two earlier rehearsals were held in the 1990s....more