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Vets prepare to protect Wyo livestock industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – “We’re trying to make more of our membership aware of and able to deal with disaster preparedness for an animal disease response,” said Fred Emerich, DVM, of the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) and Second President-Elect of the Wyoming Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA).
    The WVMA held a Casper meeting in December to help educate its members on the possibility of a major disease response effort.
    “We’re trying to be proactive with what we’re going to do if a disease outbreak does happen,” said WVMA President-Elect Jennifer Gage. “It’s our responsibility to defend the livestock business in Wyoming and protect it.”
    Emerich said he thinks Wyoming is doing a fairly decent job around the state with disaster preparedness. He said Laramie County’s emergency coordinator has worked with the WLSB to develop an animal disease response plan that’s been tried a couple of times.
    “We’re modifying the state and county plans, and they’re never static,” said Emerich. “We used the plan in the bluetongue outbreak of Fall 2007 and we found we were relatively well prepared.”
    The group training the WVMA members in Casper, of which Steven Van Wie, DVM, is a part of, travels the country teaching veterinarians and emergency response personnel on animal disaster preparedness, particularly with foreign animal disease and avian influenza.
    “They go through a number of things, including personal protective equipment, disinfection and being aware of the epidemiology of the disease,” said Emerich, adding the education also includes how to take care of euthanasia and disposal. “In the English foot and mouth outbreak they had to face the fact of what they were going to do with 15,000 euthanized animals each day.”
    “They don’t give a lot of answers, but they pose a great many questions we have to answer for ourselves because we’re so much different than Delaware and California,” he continued. “We have to work within our needs and wants and the framework of what our law will allow.”
    Gage said the Wyoming Department of Public Health has assigned seven regional veterinary coordinators around the state, and under them a designated county veterinarian for each county, who works in conjunction with their county’s emergency preparedness team.
    “Between the state and counties we’re developing emergency preparedness in the event a disease or a disaster comes along,” said Emerich. “It takes a long time to get people trained and get them to respond. They have to realize there is the possibility of a terrorist attack or a silly incident that would allow a foreign animal disease in our country. I can’t imagine why someone would target Wyoming for a terrorist attack, but that doesn’t mean a terrorist or an ‘oops’ wouldn’t allow something like foot and mouth into one of the maritime states.”
    Emerich emphasized Wyoming needs some sort of response plan. “If you take cattle out of Torrington they could be in 30 states in two days. Cattle from Texas, Louisiana or Florida could be coming north to grass within a short period of time. We’re not isolated anymore.”
    If a disease outbreak should occur, Emerich said Wyoming’s plan is to evaluate the disease, the time of year and livestock movement. “A foreign animal disease could take up to two weeks to diagnose, so we have to have a plan for what we’re going to do in the meanwhile,” he said. “If we think it’s foot and mouth my suspicion is we’d embargo all cattle and cloven hoofed animals coming into the state, and probably ask that none be shipped out.”
    He said it would also depend on what Wyoming’s trading partners do. “We don’t have major slaughter facilities, but we also don’t have as many fat cattle so we’ve got more time. What would Colorado and Nebraska do if they couldn’t ship cattle?” he asked.
    “We as veterinarians and the Livestock Board have to train and train and be prepared and aware in case something should occur,” stated Emerich. “Within the next five years the federal government has said they’re fairly certain we’ll have a radiological or biological incident.”
    “I think there’s a good turnout at this meeting, so this topic of disease response is garnering interest from the food animal veterinarians,” said Gage. “If a disease shows up it will affect their livelihood and the livelihood of Wyoming.”
    The December meeting was the third within Wyoming at which Van Wie has spoken. “We’re getting different people to come all the time, so I think we’re getting a lot of information out there,” said Emerich. “If we do nothing more than get veterinarians and first responders like police and firemen and make them aware of where we’re going with this, we may never see it but at least they’ve been exposed to the ‘What if’s?’”
    “The message is getting out and, from what I can see, Wyoming is doing a really good job in preparing,” he said.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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