Infectious disease outbreaks often make headlines when they affect humans-think Zika virus-but it is not often that animal disease outbreaks make it above the fold assuming they make news at all. The current and past avian influenza outbreaks in the United States are a great example.  USDA summarized the outbreak in a report titled, “2016 HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan,” dated January 11, 2016, stating:

Since it was first identified in the United States in December 2014 in the Pacific Northwest, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) hasbeen detected in commercial and backyard poultry flocks, wild birds, or captive wild birds in 21 States. With the last case of the spring outbreak identified in June, 2015, a total of 211 commercial and 21 backyard poultry premises had been affected. This resulted in the depopulation of 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million egg-layer and pullet chickens, with devastating effects on these businesses, and a cost to Federal taxpayers of over $950 million.

Despite the devastation to poultry and turkey farmers, the widespread depopulation of millions of birds, and the cost, the outbreak remained largely out of the mainstream media until concerns about the availability of turkey arose before Thanksgiving.

Naturally, animal health officials and those involved directly or indirectly with animal agriculture and other animal industries at risk to avian influenza outbreaks, monitored the situation closely, many taking part in the response.

Most people are unaware of the frequency of animal disease outbreaks that occur globally on a regular basis.  The Office of International Epizooties, the world health organization of animal diseases, publishes lists of outbreaks that participating countries have agreed to provide, so that everyone throughout the world can take appropriate precautionary measures to prevent spread to their countries’ resident animals. The most recent list below is an example of the type of diseases listed, some of which, like highly pathogenic avian influenza, may also affect humans.

Not all animal diseases are “notifiable,” meaning countries are not required to report those outbreaks. For example Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) is not notifiable despite its sometimes devastating impact.  The most dangerous strain of this virus has resulted in the death of hundreds of horses and disrupted equine events throughout the country because of the long and rigorous quarantines that have been implemented in an attempt to control the outbreaks.  One of the most recent outbreaks of EHV was reported in Florida, where “[a] top training facility for thoroughbreds in Florida is under quarantine for three weeks after a horse tested positive for a dangerous strain of equine herpes.”

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services quarantined around 500 thoroughbreds at that facility “for three weeks as a precaution.”

Unfortunately, concerns about animal diseases are not limited to natural disease outbreaks. Congress recently held a hearing “to examine the risk the nation faces from a terrorist attack or natural disruption of the US agriculture sector, and whether the public and private sectors are prepared to respond to these threats.”

Agroterrorism has been one of many tools used by battling nations for decades, and concerns about a current potential threat have lead to continued efforts to fortify plans to prevent and, if needed, respond to such an attack. As discussed before Congress, and as reported by Amanda Vicinanzo, Online Managing Editor Homeland Security Today”

US food and agriculture accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity, contributed $835 billion to the US gross domestic product in 2014, and is responsible for one out of every 12 US jobs, according to Subcommittee Chairman Martha McSally (R-AZ). Consequently, an agroterrorist attack could have significant economic repercussions.

The concerns to be addressed about the current state of preparedness include:

  • An insufficient quantity of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine
  • Gaps in US Biosecurity
  • More robust scrutiny of imports
  • Traceability
  • Resource constraints
  • Gaps in early detection
  • Data sharing for regulated diseases

It is notable and disconcerting that all of these concerns about the natural or intentional introduction of disease from international animal movement disappears when it comes to the unregulated transport and importation of dogs throughout the country for sale to consumers from rescues and shelters.