Expecting emergencies: Preparing for disease outbreaks

Emma Cross

Despite our industry’s best efforts, emergencies happen. As in any aspect of life, producers can respond best when disaster strikes by being prepared well beforehand.

The newest section of the VBP+ Producer Reference Manual, Emergency Response Plan, has just been released. This tenth module of the manual walks producers through being prepared for various types of crises that can occur on-farm, from natural disasters to equipment failure.

Among the topics of concern under this section of the manual are animal health emergencies, including outbreaks of reportable diseases like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). FMD is an non-treatable, infectious disease that can be rapidly spread between animals and operations. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), FMD can cause the following symptoms:

  • Depressed behaviour
  • Increased body temperature
  • Vesicles (blisters) on the tongue, lips, teats, and hooves
  • Reduced appetite and milk production

The virus that causes FMD can be spread by direct contact with infected livestock, but CFIA also notes that animals can contract FMD via airborne transmission over long distances. Indirect transmission can also occur if animals have contact with any kind of clothing, equipment, facilities, vehicles, feed, or water contaminated with the virus.

Luckily, FMD is currently absent from the Canadian cattle herd. However, introduction of this disease from another country could cause a larger outbreak that would have disastrous effects on Canada’s stance in the global beef trade, as well as on animal welfare.

As a country “free of FMD”, Canada prohibits imports of animals or animal products of susceptible species unless they have been processed to destroy any potential FMD virus contamination. Similarly, if Canada were to encounter an outbreak, global trade barriers would be imposed upon Canadian beef exports until a disease-free status was recovered. CFIA explains that an outbreak of FMD would lead to euthanasia of all animals infected or exposed to the virus as well as protocols for quarantine, tracing, and decontamination.

Due to the potential consequences of an FMD outbreak and the ability of the disease to spread rapidly even without direct animal contact, surveillance for and early detection of FMD is key. The Animal Health Emergency Management (AHEM) project has released two resources to help beef and dairy producers contribute.

Click here to view the AHEM project's Preparing for Animal Disease Emergencies brochure.
Click here to view the AHEM project’s Preparing for Animal Disease Emergencies brochure.

“It is important for producers to be proactive in preparing for animal health emergencies, such as a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak,” says Todd Bergen-Henengouwen, Resource Development lead with the Animal Health Emergency Management project. “Knowing what to look for and how to respond can make a difference in preventing the spread or limiting the impact of a contagious animal disease.”

The Animal Health Emergency Management Summary Brochure informs producers of the response phases for animal health emergencies. This document includes specific steps for operations to follow in first understanding the importance of emergency response, preparing for emergencies on their own operation, and finally responding to an outbreak on-farm or elsewhere.


Click here to view the AHEM project's Detecting Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Cattle brochure.
Click here to view the AHEM project’s Detecting Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Cattle brochure.

The AHEM project also released another document, titled Detecting Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Cattle, which focuses specifically on FMD. This resource shows producers how to recognize the signs of FMD and details what actions to follow if FMD is detected, as well as what to expect from an outbreak.

These two documents align closely with the recommendations of the Emergency Response Plan module of the VBP+ Producer Reference Manual. FMD detection is an excellent example of the need to be prepared for disasters before they happen. Take a chance to review the new module, along with the AHEM documents, to be prepared for whatever may come your way.

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