Title: Animal Disease Surveillance in Florida
For nearly five centuries, animals have played a key role in Florida's economy and culture. From beef cattle and dairy herds, to poultry and swine, the state's livestock industry generates over a billion dollars in sales annually. Florida's equine industry hosts several major events that attract competitors and viewers from around the globe. The state is also home of some of the world's most famous venues for animal exhibition and entertainment. With animal populations ranging from established cattle herds, to exotic animals, the important task of keeping Florida's livestock and poultry populations safe from animal diseases can be daunting. Ensuring their health is the mission of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Animal Industry.
Over the past 50 years, Florida farmers and ranches have overcome a number of devastating diseases and pests with the assistance of the Division's Bureau of Animal Disease Control. Today, the Bureau continues its meticulous surveillance of livestock to ensure that these diseases do not reemerge. The Bureau works with livestock producers, veterinarians, livestock markets, and other agencies to prevent the emergence of known diseases and the introduction of foreign animal disease, which remains a significant potential threat to the state's animal populations.
Whenever large groups of animals are gathered together, the chance of spreading diseases increases. Over a million calves are raised on Florida ranches ranging from some of the nation's largest cattle operations to small family farms. Florida is ranked third in the nation in number of show and work horses, and is quickly becoming a leader in goat production. To help maintain safe and wholesome food animal production, the Division of Animal Industry provides the framework for surveillance and disease control programs, so critical to maintaining Florida's role in local, U.S. and global markets.
The Bureau of Animal Disease Control monitors animal assembly points for undetected diseases. Effective disease surveillance requires the Bureau to have field inspectors and veterinarians work with livestock and poultry populations on farms and ranches, horse shows, state and local fairs, and at numerous livestock-related events and activities across the state. They put in long hours at livestock markets and animal auctions where it is common to work from sunup to sundown, routinely checking the animals' health status.
In locations where animals are at greater risk of disease exposure, Bureau personnel inspect animals and detect disease before extensive spreading can occur. Early detection of disease is essential in protecting Florida's animal industries. Diseases can spread quickly and many are easily transmitted by contact with infected animals or animal products. Some can also be spread by farm workers, farm equipment, vehicles, feedstuffs, or even the wind. Field inspectors work with livestock and poultry producers by providing information about regulatory requirements and Best Management Practices.
Many diseases of concern have the potential to spread between livestock species and wildlife and, in some cases, people. With such a broad potential impact, the Bureau works regularly with the United States Department of Agriculture, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Florida Department of Health to protect Florida's public and animal health.
While many animal diseases do not infect humans, some diseases such as rabies, avian influenza, tuberculosis, and brucellosis can be transmitted from animals to humans. These diseases are known as zoonotic diseases. Over the last three decades, approximately 75 percent of the emerging infectious diseases identified in humans are believed to have originated in animals. Since protecting the public health is always a priority, the Bureau of Animal Disease Control works closely with the Florida Department of Health. The collaboration between these agencies ranges from surveillance for mosquito-borne illnesses to joint investigations of specific zoonotic diseases. The Bureau also provides educational outreach to the public regarding potential disease risks related to animal-human interactions such as petting zoos, hunting of feral swine, and consumption of raw dairy products.
Should a potential outbreak be suspected, the state veterinarian is notified, and a Bureau Veterinary Medical Officer is dispatched to investigate and characterize the incident. When diseased animals are identified, the Veterinary Medical Officers and state inspectors collect samples from affected animals, implement bio-security measures, establish quarantines and trace potentially exposed or at-risk animals. Samples are sent to the appropriate state or national laboratory for rapid diagnosis. Bureau veterinarians and inspectors thoroughly investigate disease incidents that might cause illness, death, loss of production, or disruption of trade and commerce resulting in a negative impact on Florida's economy.
No matter the herd size, disease events can be economically and emotionally devastating to livestock owners and producers. Disease outbreaks are costly on many levels. Expensive control and eradication measures are necessary, but such costs could force some operations to close. Infected animals may die during a disease outbreak or have to be euthanized to prevent the spread of disease. Simply being exposed to certain diseases might require an animal to be humanely destroyed. While reduced herd size and loss of valuable genetics could negatively impact a livestock operation for years, the removal and disposal of carcasses are major undertakings and present an immediate hardship.
Today the introduction of a foreign animal disease into Florida is more a probability than a possibility. Free-market economies are expanding worldwide. Animals and animal products move around the globe in unprecedented numbers. As Florida's participation in domestic and international markets increases, so does the potential for a foreign animal disease outbreak. Such an outbreak could shut down the Florida's ability to trade with other states or countries, crippling its agriculture industry and economy.
With 12 major seaports, 20 commercial airports, and hundreds of smaller airfields, Florida's borders are extremely porous. 120 million commercial and general aviation passengers, including 75 million foreign tourists and their luggage, arrive in the state each year. Today, both known and newly emerging diseases could appear just as easily in the middle of the state as at one of the border ports of inspection. A livestock producer or animal owner who might never have travelled more than 100 miles from home could suddenly find at his doorstep a foreign animal disease from the other side of the world.
Monitoring the movement of all livestock transported in, out or around Florida is another of the Bureau's duties. Each year more than half a million animals cross over the state's border, and thousands more move within the state. With such extensive movement of animals, Florida's Agricultural Inspection stations are open 24/7 and Agricultural Law Enforcement officers are on hand to verify that all shipments comply with state regulations. The Division of Animal Industry provides on-call assistance to the stations around the clock.
Often travelling overseas with their owners, companion animals can be unwittingly exposed to foreign parasites or diseases. To assist in the identification of foreign parasites, such as ticks or infestations with screwworm fly larvae that could carry diseases or affect other pets or livestock, the Bureau offers its laboratory services to local veterinarians. In 2003, the Division of Animal Industry created a program to oversee issues related to companion animals. To ensure compliance with existing rules and legislation, Bureau inspectors also monitor intrastate sales of dogs and cats at small animal and weekend markets, and perform yearly inspections of pet stores to check that requirements of the Pet Sales Law are followed.
Foreign animal diseases are usually introduced into an animal population unintentionally. But, as the threat of terrorism increases around the world, the prospect of their malicious introduction here in the US is of increasing concern. While any outbreak could be devastating, a terrorist-initiated foreign animal disease would have an added psychological impact. The perception of a slow or inadequate response by the government could further result in diminished confidence in the state's -- or the nation's -- food supply. The need for an up-to-date emergency response plan is vital in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.
To be prepared in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, 18 Emergency Support Functions, or ESFs, were established in the Florida Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. By law, the Division of Animal Industry is the lead responder for ESF-17. Emergency Support Function 17 ensures rapid response to animal and agricultural needs in a disaster or emergency scenario. While ESF-17 assists local organizations in providing emergency medical care, shelter, food and water to all animals affected by a disaster, it is also involved in the diagnosis, prevention, and control of diseases of public health significance.
One of the most effective ways to protect Florida's animal industry from devastating diseases is through early detection. While the Division of Animal Industry and its Bureau of Animal Disease Control provide the framework for vital surveillance and disease control programs, Florida's livestock producers, animal owners and veterinarians act as the first line of defense. Prompt reporting of suspicious animal disease is critical to safeguarding Florida's animal industries. Anyone who has knowledge of, or suspects the existence of any listed disease or pests that might result in high animal loss, economic damage, or are suspected of causing human disease, should immediately contact the office of the State Veterinarian.