With recent outbreaks of poultry and canine influenza, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (UKVDL) has been on high alert. But the lab is always in-the-know on animal disease situations, including equine diseases, throughout the state and the country.

The UKVDL is part of a larger network—the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN)—that tracks the progress of diseases and performs diagnostic tests on thousands of samples each year. The network is a cooperative effort between two federal agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture—and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.

“The NAHLN is a strategic partnership of veterinary labs around the country,” said Craig Carter, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM, director of the UKVDL. “The network enables labs to test for diseases that pose serious threats to animal health such as the recent avian influenza epidemics as well as foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, mad cow disease, and many others.”

Carter said the network is a vital early warning system for emerging disease and foreign animal disease, diseases that can be accidentally or deliberately introduced to the United States from abroad. Without an early warning system, foot-and-mouth disease could easily cost U.S. agriculture more than $125 billion in decreased revenues for corn and soybeans and more than 150,000 lost jobs over the course of an outbreak.

“Being able to quickly identify disease, warn of its presence, and stop the spread is a very important part of ensuring a safe, stable, and nutritious food supply in the United States,” Carter said. “As part of the larger network, we’ve helped establish a framework for animal health monitoring that provides critical information sharing and an emergency response system that can protect animal agriculture.”

The early detection of animal diseases can also help protect human health. For example, avian influenza virus has the potential for mutating into a strain that can infect people.

“By keeping a watchful eye on animal disease in Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States, we can also increase consumer confidence in animal agriculture and ensure positive relationships with our global trading partners,” Carter said.

Aimee Nielson is an agriculture communication specialist at the University of Kentucky.

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