Beef and dairy producers are becoming more familiar with foreign animal diseases (FADs) and other cattle diseases, but there is opportunity to increase that knowledge. The USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) released Dairy 2007 last year, and recently released Beef 2007–08. These surveys of beef and dairy producers included questions on familiarity with FADs and other diseases, and what producers’ likely responses would be to a disease outbreak event.

The Dairy 2007 study revealed that almost half of producers (49.3%) knew some basics about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), while an additional 8.9% were fairly knowledgeable about the disease. More than 8 of 10 dairy producers (80.4%) knew some basics or were fairly knowledgeable about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Almost 60% of producers (57.9%) were fairly knowledgeable about Johne’s disease, while an additional 36.2% knew some basics about the disease. Additionally, more than 50% of dairy producers at least knew some basics about Mycoplasma mastitis, bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), and Leptospira hardjo-bovis.

Compared to the Dairy 2002 study, fewer dairy producers indicated they were “fairly knowledgeable” about foot-and-mouth disease. “I think the big outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001 received a lot of media attention and the latest outbreak in 2007 was much smaller and less publicized, so fewer dairy producers were ‘educated’ or as concerned,” says Jason Lombard, DVM, MS, of the USDA:APHIS:VS in Ft. Collins, Colo. “Very few dairy producers were very knowledgeable about vesicular stomatitis, either. I suspect that foreign animal diseases are not on the radar screen of most producers.”

The Beef 2007–08 study revealed that producers were most familiar with brucellosis: 44.8% said they were fairly knowledgeable about the disease and 33.6% knew some basics. Beef producers on approximately two of three operations knew some basics or were fairly knowledgeable about foot-and-mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and bovine viral diarrhea (65.8%, 63.5%, and 64% percent of operations, respectively). On nearly one-half of operations (49.1%), producers either recognized the name anthrax or had not heard of it before. On over two of three operations (68.7%), beef producers knew little or nothing about Johne’s disease. Not surprisingly, producers on more than three of four operations (77.7%) had not heard of the foreign animal disease rinderpest.

David Dargatz, DVM, PhD, also of the USDA:APHIS:VS believes producers are more aware of FADs now than they were before the FMD outbreak in the U.K. “In the wake of that outbreak there was a lot of interest in biosecurity plans for infectious diseases in general, but especially for foreign animal diseases,” Dargatz notes. “Seeing the havoc that disease can bring to the livestock industries seemed to capture the attention of many in agriculture.”

Dargatz adds that the subsequent terrorist attacks in September 2001 brought up the possibility that some foreign animal diseases could be intentionally introduced. “I believe that these sort of events have contributed to only 1.2% of beef cow-calf producers reporting that they had not heard of foot-and-mouth disease before,” he says. “However, while producers seem to be aware of FMD, probably because of the coverage on the news during the outbreak in the U.K., they are less knowledgeable about many of the other foreign animal diseases and some endemic diseases.”  

Biosecurity practices

Implementing biosecurity practices reduces the introduction of disease. Employees and visitors of the dairy are potential avenues of disease introduction, and operations should have restrictions and guidelines designed to limit the introduction of disease.

A higher percentage of large dairy operations (47.3%) trained employees in performing biosecurity practices compared with small and medium size operations (17.8% and 23.7%, respectively). Other than employee training, less than 20% of all operations implemented the other biosecurity practices listed. About one of three operations (30.4%) had guidelines regarding which visitors were allowed in animal areas, and 51.3% of operations had restrictions on vehicles entering animal areas. A lower percentage of small operations (22.7%) provided disposable or clean boots for visitors entering animal areas compared with medium size operations (42.1%).

Veterinarians will be key

Dairy producers were asked what sources they would go to in the event of an FAD outbreak. Almost all operations (93.6%) would very likely use a private veterinarian for information regarding an FAD outbreak in the United States. Approximately 4 of 10 operations would very likely seek information from other dairy producers or magazines (41.4% and 39%, respectively). The Internet was not a likely source of information for 48.1% of operations.

If an FAD was introduced into the United States, infected animals would need to be identified and diagnosed quickly to stop the spread of disease. Most dairy operations (98.6%) would contact a private veterinarian if an animal on the operation was suspected of having an FAD.

By knowing who producers will turn to for information during an emergency, responders are able to target the dissemination routes of information critical to the emergency response effort. In the event of an FMD outbreak in the United States, most beef operations (85.1%) were very likely to get information from a private veterinarian. The next most likely sources of information were other beef producers and Extension agents (46.2% and 40.8% of operations, respectively).

Almost all beef operations (95.5%) would contact a private veterinarian if they had an animal suspected of having foot-and-mouth disease or another FAD.

“Private practitioners are a key information source for producers in many areas, and we have seen this across all of our surveys,” Dargatz says. “This is especially true in the area of disease outbreak information. Only 4.6% of beef cow-calf producers said they would not be likely to contact a private practitioner for information during an animal health emergency/disease outbreak. Over 85% of cow-calf producers would be ‘very likely’ to contact a private practitioner for information.”

The veterinarian should take steps to be a knowledgeable source for the producers, Dargatz suggests. “Early recognition and early intervention are critical to mitigating the size and impact of disease outbreaks.”

Lombard believes it is important for veterinarians to be knowledgeable enough about FADs to know what to look for and who to call when they suspect one. “The veterinarian’s role in FADs also includes dissemination of information to the general public,” Lombard states. “In practice, I had quite a few questions from large animal clients during the U.K. FMD outbreak. Some producers had relatives coming from the U.K. and wondered what precautions to take, etc. I found that small animal clients actually had more questions than most of my large animal clients. I think this makes educating all veterinarians on FADs important.”

Educate your clients

Clearly there is more mobility of people and animals today than ever before, and these activities do bring risks. “Veterinarians are in the best position to educate producers about the risks and then should work with them to minimize disease spread risks, whether internal or external, on their operation,” says Lombard.

In the recent past much of our approach to disease control has relied heavily on technologic solutions. “The biologics companies have risen to the challenge and produced many highly effective vaccines to help control disease,” Dargatz says, “and we’ve also had effective antimicrobial drugs to use for some diseases.”

However, today we have to consider supplementing our use of technological solutions with management strategies that reduce the exposure to disease agents or enhance the animal’s non-specific resistance to disease agents. In some cases the diseases of concern do not currently have effective vaccines available (e.g. Johne’s disease). In other cases vaccines may not be available until an outbreak occurs (e.g. some foreign animal diseases). “Producers who are more aware of diseases and the way they spread will be better able to decrease the likelihood of introduction and in the event of an introduction (inadvertent or intentional), they will be better prepared to recognize the condition early and call for help,” Dargatz notes.

Early recognition is also key to limiting the size of outbreaks. “Concerns about foreign animal diseases are often the way to open the door to discussion about control of infectious diseases using management strategies, and the same principles can be applied to endemic diseases too,” Dargatz explains. “The veterinarian is in a perfect position to help the pro-ducer understand the risks, recognition of disease, and developing a biosecurity/biocontainment plan.”

And though Lombard suggests that veterinarians and producers may not believe they have much time to spend on what is likely considered a very low risk to their operations, “It would be fairly simple for veterinarians to provide a list of clinical signs that could be associated with an FAD and make sure the client knows to contact them immediately if they suspect an animal to have any of those clinical signs,” he says. “Not only should veterinarians educate dairy clients, but any entity that routinely handles livestock, such as auction markets, livestock haulers and others.”