Leonard Eldridge, state veterinarian, provides an outbreak update
during the exercise. (Photo by Henry Moore, Biomedical Communications Unit,
College of Veterinary Medicine)
By Terry McElwain, Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory,
condensed from an article in the winter 2010 Veterinary Medicine Extension Ag Animal Health newsletter   
PULLMAN – No foreign animal disease would have a greater impact on U.S. agriculture than an introduction of foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus.
With recent outbreaks in Asia and the large number of people and goods arriving daily into Washington State, the risk of an outbreak is greater than ever. Early response is critical; it is estimated that delays in diagnosis beyond a week can result in additional losses of up to $10M/hour.
Creation of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) in 2002 provides testing in qualified state labs. The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine is one of 12 founding member labs of the NAHLN. It is responsible for surveillance testing and, if an outbreak is identified, high volume testing of up to 1,500 animals daily to identify infected herds and, ultimately, to qualify the U.S. as free from the disease once an outbreak has ended.
In the fall, WADDL hosted a NAHLN-organized regional laboratory-focused tabletop exercise on FMD to examine early, mid and late response activities. Areas studied included the decision-making process for NAHLN activation and de-activation, testing capacity, surveillance sample collection protocols, algorithm testing during different phases of the outbreak, and communication and coordination processes.
Approximately 50 state and federal laboratory, regulatory, and field personnel and cattle industry representatives from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia attended.
What did we learn?
1. WADDL’s responsibility as a NAHLN core laboratory when faced with emergency testing of this magnitude is sobering. We confirmed that our facility is too small to reasonably meet the large testing volume during response and recovery.
It is clear that business as usual will simply stop if there is an FMD outbreak. But WADDL has prepared well for this challenge, with an emergency response plan and a formal memorandum of understanding with a sister laboratory in California to conduct routine testing that could not be done at WADDL during an outbreak.
2. Communication is a challenge, but we must not forget that all partners in the process have a critical need for information. It is difficult to balance everyone’s needs. Communication of lab results during an outbreak is governed by a well-defined procedure that restricts who will receive information and when.
3. Initial entry of sample information into a database and communication of results is a bottleneck that poses one of our greatest challenges. Fortunately this is solvable with computer technology; it just needs to be done.
4. There is need for rapid communication among all NAHLN laboratories (and other stakeholders), for development of other test procedures in different phases of the response, and for better estimates of the volume of testing that will be required.
5. The take home lesson for all who participated was the enormity of the challenge we would face with an FMD outbreak. Prevention and early detection are key and strict biosecurity practices on livestock operations are vital.
If we don’t know about it, we can’t diagnose it, and if we can’t diagnose it, we can’t respond at the earliest stage. Signs of FMD include drooling, sores in the mouth and sores on the feet of cows, pigs, sheep and goats.