Officers on the road

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Officers on the road is a monthly feature of the JAVMA News, designed to let AVMA members know about the issues their leadership is addressing.

Officers on the road

What role do veterinarians have in bioterrorism preparedness and response, and biosecurity? What is needed to help veterinary professionals adequately tackle this role?

 Dr. Jack O. Walther, AVMA president responds:

One of the top items that I have addressed—as I have spoken to the state associations or even when I was in Europe last week (late October) talking to the NATO military—is the important role that veterinarians are going to play in biosecurity and bioterrorism. Primarily, there are two areas where veterinarians are really going to have to be prepared.

The first is foreign animal disease identification. Most veterinarians in the United States haven't seen many of these diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, which is probably the most likely one that I believe we are going to see in the United States. As a result, a practicing veterinarian, particularly in rural areas that are most likely to have the diseases, might not make the diagnosis as quickly as possible. As a profession, we need to become more aware of what these diseases are, what they look like, and where to report them, because we truly are, as the secretary of agriculture said, the first line of defense against these foreign animal diseases.

The second part of our responsibility will be to act appropriately if a foreign animal disease should occur. That is going to take some training and education for veterinarians who are willing to become involved in this—similar, in some ways, to how veterinarians reacted to the exotic Newcastle disease that came up out of Mexico a few months ago. If you have something like foot-and-mouth disease, you are going to need to have a much more organized and immediately available national effort to control that disease as quickly as possible.

In order to accomplish this, I foresee a couple possibilities. There is a suggestion that veterinarians who are accredited, which most of us are, should go through some specific continuing education on foreign animal disease, on an annual or biannual basis, to maintain our accreditation. As an individual, I hate to be told that I have to do these things. In this situation, however, I think the national good far overrides the inconvenience of having to get this continuing education, and I support that change wholeheartedly.

The other thing that has been suggested is to form a veterinary ready reserve, very much like the military. Veterinarians would receive special training in dealing with foreign animal disease and be on a volunteer basis whereby they could be called up instantly to give the support necessary to deal with a bioterrorism or a biosecurity breach. This would have to be funded by the federal government and go through all the proper channels in Washington to be approved. I think it is a good idea, and we need to explore it. There is already some beginning discussion on it in Washington. I think my role will be to make sure that discussion continues.