For Release January 25, 2004

Foreign Animal Diseases a Real Threat

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

One of the major agricultural bioterrorism threats is from foreign animal diseases (FAD). FAD are diseases of domestic animals that we do not currently have in the United States. This includes such familiar and unfamiliar things as foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever (hog cholera), rinderpest, African swine fever, even brucellosis. What all of these have in common are that they are very contagious and can spread rapidly through the livestock they infect.

Some of them are highly fatal, i.e. rinderpest, others kill very few of the animals they infect, foot and mouth disease. Many are not a threat to human health, a few can be. For a FAD to be a potential bioterrorism threat it has to be easy to spread to the target animals, and it has to move quickly through the herd or flock. For that reason, Mad Cow Disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is not considered to be an ag bioterrorism threat because it is not highly contagious. It can not spread from animal to animal, they become infected through the feed. And since it can take years for the disease to develop and manifest itself, it is not high on a bioterrorism threat list.

It is important to remember that the objective of a bioterrorism attack or threat of attack is to disrupt the American way of life. But many of these FAD could be brought into livestock herds unintentionally also. The massive foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in Great Britain in February 2001 is a classic example. Raw garbage from an eastern Asian freighter was fed to some pigs.

FMD is a complex disease that has many different strains. Some strains infect one or two species, others infect many species of animals. Pigs quickly show many symptoms of FMD. The farmer that owned the pigs wasn't fond of veterinarians and so didn't report the unusual symptoms. The pigs then passed the disease on to some sheep on the farm. Sheep don't show many symptoms, but can be very effective carriers and transmitters of the disease. Some of the infected sheep went to a large sheep market with over 10,000 head present, which is where the veterinarians saw something suspicious.

At that point, had the British government followed their FAD plan, the whole lot of sheep would have been quarantined and they would have back tracked where all the infected sheep came from and possibly put a quick stop to the outbreak. Unfortunately, they didn't do this. All the sheep were sent home and the outbreak was off and running. In the end thousands of animals were put down, or depopulated as they like to say.

The federal government and each state government have developed emergency plans in case of an outbreak. Very soon, counties all across Kansas will be developing county level plans to help guide the initial 48 hours of response IN CASE there ever is an outbreak. Local producers need to be vigilant in watching for strangers around their livestock. The public needs to help by remaining calm if an outbreak ever happens. Hopefully, with all these plans in place, we'll never need to use them. But if you think that the single BSE case in Washington state was a mess, you'd best hope we don't have an FAD outbreak. If you have questions concerning Foreign Animal Diseases, I do hope you will call me at the Geary County Extension Office, 785-238-4161.


Return to Agri-Views Home Page

Return to Ag Home Page