State veterinary response teams are popping up across the country to prepare for potential incidents of foreign animal disease, agroterrorism and large-scale natural disasters.

Currently, about one-quarter of the states have such teams, which vary in size. Kansas has the largest with 600 members, Iowa has 298 members and Arizona has 30 members.

“We established ALIRT (Arizona Livestock Incidence Response Team) because we’ve had a number of livestock situations (mostly cattle) that we have not been able to diagnose,” says Bob Kattnig, associate livestock specialist at the University of Arizona. “We need to organize these teams to survive.”

He adds, “There are some cases where we’ve lost large numbers of livestock, and we felt a quicker, better coordinated response could have resulted in a better diagnosis. ” In other situations, the team was able to make a diagnosis within 48 hours of being contacted.

The 20 veterinarians involved in ALIRT go through additional training with detailed guidance from diagnostic labs. They also have additional necropsy training and are given specific tools to ensure that they get proper samples on farms. ALIRT’s advisory board includes representatives from the University of Arizona’s department of animal and veterinary sciences, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, livestock producers and the Arizona Cattlegrowers Association staff.

In Iowa, Mark Shearer is the Iowa Center for Agriculture Security veterinary response coordinator and oversees the Iowa Veterinary Rapid Response Team. IVRRT has members from more than 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties, as well as from five surrounding states. Membership includes producers, animal-health technicians, processing plant workers, scientists and veterinary medical students.

The teams are responsible for animal disease surveillance and diagnosis, as well as control and eradication strategies. Duties may include quarantining animals, prohibiting animal movement, disinfecting farms, euthanizing animals and planning for carcass disposal.

The state veterinarian and agriculture secretary oversee IVRRT, which works with the Iowa Department of Public Health and USDA, as well as other state and federal partners.

In Arizona, Kattnig explains that they have a response-action plan in place to minimize animal losses and economic impact. The intention is to provide assistance during an emergency. Kattnig stresses that the ALIRT team is not in a position to respond to normal production events, such as swine flu or bovine viral diarrhea. “We really stress that it’s not designed to replace normal interaction between producers and their veterinarians,” says Kattnig.

By following proper reporting procedures, you end up with a more accurate diagnosis and minimize the economic losses through a quick response, as well as protect public health and the environment, he adds.

Since 75 percent of the states don’t have emergency veterinary response teams, Kattnig stresses that current teams need to go across state borders. That way if something surfaces in Arizona, the team’s efforts also can work to protect Utah or California. 

“If we have surrounding states with similar training and there’s an animal emergency, teams within other states can help each other,” says Kattnig. “In this day and age, we have to develop regional programs. We have a mobile society, and the opportunity of something being spread is very great.”

Editor’s note: For more information on the Iowa Veterinary Rapid Response Team, go to www.agriculture.state.ia.us/IVRRT.htm.

To find out more on the Arizona Livestock Incidence Response Team, contact Robert Kattnig at rkattnigh@ag.arizona.edu or (520) 621-9757.


Illinois Keeps a Watchful Eye

The Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Illinois Veterinary Emergency Response Team initiative is an effort to establish a unified response to animal-health emergencies by increasing intergovernmental cooperation and building a partnership between public animal-health officials and private veterinary practitioners. IVERT is one in a series of measures that the Illinois Agriculture Department has taken to improve emergency preparedness. Others include:

  • Establishing an online premises identification registry to identify every farm, feedlot, sales barn and slaughter facility in the state that handles food-producing animals. 
  • Requiring a permit for all livestock imported into the state for production or exhibition. This provides advance notice of farm animals entering Illinois and expedites tracing if diseased animals enter the state.
  • Funding for a Geographic Information System to track agricultural assets such as farms, grain elevators and food processing plants. This first-of-its-kind system will contain a rich database to identify resources and aid decision-making during emergencies.
  • Organizing meetings with neighboring states to develop regional communication plans and guidelines for tracing and controlling emergency livestock movement.
  • Expanding surveillance for bovine spongiform encephalopathy to make sure cattle feed produced on Illinois farms does not contain product that could transmit BSE.
  • For more information, send an e-mail to IVERTinfo@mchs1.com.