Veterinarians join emergency eradication effort

APHIS continues to recruit, dispatches some officers to UK
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Dr. Donald E. Hoenig, a Maine state veterinarian, near a disinfectant mat for vehicular traffic in the county of Cumbria, England. Dr. Hoenig was among the first US veterinarians to volunteer their assistance for the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom.

Stirred by their desire to ease suffering and put their skills to work solving a crisis, 120 veterinarians have responded so far to the USDA-APHIS' call to register as Emergency Eradication veterinary medical officers.

Their mission—to be ready for activation if the United States encounters a foreign animal disease threat.

In such an emergency, APHIS would first deploy staff from its Regional Emergency Animal Disease Eradication Organization to ensure that necessary actions were being taken. But a large outbreak would require temporary reinforcements.

The Emergency Eradication VMOs would supplement permanent and READEO employees of APHIS for 30 days, with the possibility of a 30-day extension.

In the three months since APHIS issued its call for volunteers, about 200 veterinarians have requested information. Dr. Ty Vannieuwenhoven, a senior staff veterinarian with APHIS Veterinary Services, Emergency Programs, said the veterinarians who apply and qualify are being added to an ongoing roster. Once the program is firmly established and the UK emergency is over, the agency will offer members of the program exportable animal disease training.

An interesting development subsequent to APHIS announcing the program in January has been the agency's decision to deploy some of the Emergency Eradication VMOs to the United Kingdom to respond to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

It's a symbiotic exchange. Much-needed veterinary resources are channeled to the UK, and the VMOs return equipped with experience that strengthens US readiness to combat whatever foreign disease might be introduced.

Up to now the USDA has been dispatching a combination of state and federal employees. The federal employees have been from three USDA agencies: APHIS, the Agricultural Research Service, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

"We've just opened the opportunity for individual veterinarians to support the FMD response in the UK," Dr. Vannieuwenhoven said, "through the Emergency Eradication VMO program. The USDA is now sending 15 veterinarians a week for 30-day periods, so there will be a stream of 60 US veterinarians there continuously."

The first Emergency Eradication VMO was called to action right here at home, at APHIS' Emergency Operations Center (EMOC) in Riverdale, Md. He is Dr. Jacob Casper of Baltimore. Dr. Casper has been helping process applications to hire veterinarians from the roster for service in the UK.

On April 11, APHIS sent its first team of 15 Emergency Eradication VMOs to the UK. Officers first travel to their respective federal area offices for briefing, then onto London. There they are met by officials from the British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food for a three-hour briefing and an informational exchange with VMOs returning to the States that week. Then it's on to their work location.

JAVMA caught up with two members of the first team, Drs. James Leahy and Doris Olander, before they left. Both had applied after reading the Jan 1, 2001 JAVMA News announcement, and each was surprised and intrigued by the unexpected opportunity to help in the UK.

Dr. Leahy said, "Everybody's circumstances are different, and they must decide on that basis whether they can spare the time. My associate is supportive and said I should go ahead and do it."

Large animal experience, although not a prerequisite, is useful for the FMD mission. Dr. Leahy owns a predominantly small animal practice in Lee, Mass, but does some large animal work, including the remaining dairy animals in his area. He interned in large animal medicine at Cornell and was in large animal practice from 1970 to the 1980s, first in Jamestown, NY, then in Massachusetts.

"I thought it would be helpful to volunteer to be available on whatever level I could help," Dr. Leahy said. He said many see it as "a comfort zone" for the United States to have individuals gaining firsthand experience from the UK crisis response.

As an epidemiologist who consults for human pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Olander was also able to step away from her work to help.

"With my background in epidemiology I want to see how such an operation works, and its strengths and weaknesses," Dr. Olander said. When FMD broke out in the UK, she happened to be in Europe. She also has a personal reason for wanting to assist. In the late 1970s while residing in England, she lived for several months with friends who own a farm in the county of Cumbria. On March 30 of this year, 800 sheep and 250 pedigreed cattle on their farm were declared infected.

Something else that piqued her interest in this mission was an epizootic foreign animal disease training course she took in 1999 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While a veterinary student she fought wildfires for the California Department of Forestry. The FMD response structure has strong resemblances, she said, yet is different because the wildfires broke out each year, so that effort was well organized and budgeted.

Dr. Olander said, "This [FMD outbreak] is an actively moving event that exponentially increases and requires a lot of logistics, something very hard for any government."

Dr. Casper is also team leader of VMAT-2, one of the AVMA's four Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams.

"VMATs are anxious to be deployed to help in this effort," he said. "We're part of the US Public Health Service, and the USDA would have to request our services. VMAT deployment is under discussion between the USDA and USPHS. In the meantime we've encouraged individual VMAT team members to register."

Dr. Casper sees state veterinarians and retired USDA veterinarians as valuable sources for the FMD response in the UK. Graduating students are another. Dr. Lonnie J. King, dean of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, told fellow deans at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges recently that he intends to encourage fourth-year students who have an interval between graduation and their first job to apply to the program.

Faculty in diagnostic laboratories and large animal clinics have great backgrounds for this, Dr. King said. "They will come back with experience that may be useful here, and they will have new abilities to teach students in foreign animal disease. It also coalesces the colleges and APHIS and USDA into a better partnership." MSU has submitted the names of two such faculty.

Dr. King added that if the FMD outbreak worsens or spreads throughout the European continent, there is much that first- to third-year veterinary students could do to help in summertime.

Veterinarians interested in being considered for the Emergency Eradication program should submit their name, address, and telephone number to Dr. Ty Vannieuwenhoven at EmergencyVMOataphis [dot] usda [dot] gov (EmergencyVMO[at]aphis[dot]usda[dot]gov), or to Scott A. McNamar, Personnel Specialist, USDA, Butler Square, 5th Floor, 100 N Sixth St, Minneapolis, MN 55403.