American Horse Council: Preparedness Is Key To Fighting Disease Surprises

What would you do in the event of an equine disease outbreak in your state, region, or own farm? The American Horse Council (AHC) is promoting horse owners taking preventative measures.

"It's like flying an airplane," said Marvin Beeman, DVM, chairman of the American Horse Council Health and Regulatory Committee. "You can have hours of routine flying, and then have minutes of total terror."

Beeman moderated a Sept. 25 panel discussion titled "Equine Health: From Local Disease to National Disaster," the theme of the AHC's fall convention in Arlington, Va. Presentations touched on the importance of communication in the event of disease, and preparation of an emergency plan, even on a farm-to-farm basis.

Beth Lautner, DVM, is involved with the National Animal Health Emergency Management Steering Committee, which was formed in 1996 and developed a model for procedures, scheduled workshops, and meets with representatives of other countries that depend upon exports. She recommended a strategic plan to combat disease-related disasters. She also revealed statistics that indicate there's some work to be done.

A 1999 self-assessment survey of states showed that 37% had no written action plan for an animal disease disaster; 50% had no plan for industry, state, and federal communication; and 58% had no emergency plan for foreign animal disease containment in local laboratories.

Foreign animal disease is a major concern because of frequent international travel by tourists, producers, and veterinarians; an increase in imported products; the illegal importation of products and animals; and bioterrorism (the intentional introduction of a disease-causing agent).

Joe Annelli, DVM, MS, chief of emergency programs for veterinary services for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, noted that a key ingredient to emergency management is the dry run. Practice makes perfect.

"When we run a test exercise, there's always something we didn't think about that pops up," Annelli said. "When you leave here (the AHC meeting), we hope you'll be thinking, 'What am I doing for my barn?' "

An informal poll of attendees at the AHC panel discussion indicated about 50% believed their veterinarian knows what to do and who to contact in case of an emergency. The attendees were given an emergency management survey for equine associations and state horse councils, information from which will be used to prepare industry standards.

For horse owners, it was suggested they take "biosecurity" measures that include some type of 30-day quarantine for new arrivals, limited access to various parts of a farm, and veterinary examinations for new arrivals. The points of exposure for disease are numerous--they include racetracks, horse vans, feed and water supplies, and even something as simple as trail rides.

"The advent of the introduction of diseases to the U.S. is a much larger problem than it used to be," Beeman said. "A good example is the West Nile virus. It served as a wake-up call for us to pay good, specific, aggressive attention to the invasion of an agent into our livestock population."

A Strategic Plan
  • Strengthen partnerships and networks
  • Reinforce federal, state, and industry coordination
  • Support animal disease research and diagnostics
  • Improve monitoring and surveillance, with international and domestic coordination
  • Expand training, education, and public awareness
  • Build a national preparedness and response infrastructure
  • Develop emergency preparedness and response contingency plans

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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