PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has received a $750,000 federal appropriation to join a founding network of similar facilities dedicated to homeland security.
The funding is part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to share responsibilities for animal disease surveillance and diagnosis with accredited state animal health laboratories. The plan enhances the nation’s capability to rapidly detect animal diseases that may affect the nation’s food supply. WADDL is one of only 12 laboratories in the nation selected for the pilot program.
“The events surrounding the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in Great Britain and 9/11 here taught us is that the animal disease diagnostic capacity of the USDA alone was inadequate to ensure the most rapid detection and diagnosis of animal diseases,” explained Dr. Terry McElwain, executive director of WADDL. “As a result, the USDA has turned to the nation’s vital body of accredited animal health laboratories like WADDL and funded them to assist in this effort as a unified network.”
Watching the events in Great Britain unfold, McElwain and his colleagues foresaw this need and were among the principal architects of the plan. For more than a year before 9/11, he worked with USDA officials as well as other state animal health laboratory directors and Congress to secure the appropriation.
“We knew in retrospect that the devastating losses suffered in Great Britain were due in part to a relatively slow response in diagnosing and responding to the FMD outbreak,” said McElwain. “We also knew in the U.S. we could expand our capacity with existing facilities and better protect ourselves from a similar event.”
“Without a doubt, Dr. McElwain was a prime mover of this plan,” said Dr. Warwick Bayly, dean of WSU’s veterinary college. “Without his tireless efforts, the plan would not have come about as quickly as it did, nor would WADDL and WSU likely have been included in the initial round of funding. This funding and the resulting network of state laboratories are essential to protecting the nation’s food supply, animal health and public health, and our country’s unparalleled trade status.”
WADDL will anchor the Pacific Northwest region of the United States under the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The NAHLN will be capable of responding to any type of animal health emergency including bioterrorist events, newly emerging diseases, and foreign animal diseases that may threaten animal or human health.
The pilot program will focus on eight exotic diseases of livestock and poultry identified by the USDA as constituting a significant threat to the nation’s food supply. The diseases of special interest include: Foot and Mouth Disease, Hog Cholera, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, Exotic Newcastle Disease, Rinderpest, African Swine Fever, Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia and Lumpy Skin Disease.
Whether naturally or deliberately introduced, Pacific Northwest veterinarians will be able to send samples to WADDL for more rapid analysis instead of waiting longer for results to come from a national laboratory. A similar network already exists with state public health laboratories working under coordination by the Centers for Disease Control.
NAHLN will provide a renewed and enhanced level of secure communication, reporting and alert systems. WADDL, in turn, supplies the most rapid diagnostic techniques available at the state, regional, and national level.
WADDL is fully accredited ensuring standardized training, testing, good laboratory practices and quality assurance that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. The laboratory, in conjunction with the WSU Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, is home to two of the world’s best post-graduate veterinary pathology and microbiology training programs. Because of this expertise WADDL provides the federal plan with the most modern equipment and experienced personnel trained specifically to detect and diagnose animal disease.
Additional federal appropriations are expected over the next two years to expand the network.