Better resource management can help maintain animal welfare during epidemics
In a recent article for Animal Frontiers, Sebastian Heath of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) illustrates the complications found in maintaining animal welfare during a disease outbreak.
There is a tendency toward treating a disease as a static entity, assessing it at the onset of the outbreak and working from there to stop its spread. Heath compares this approach to solving a puzzle.
The problem with this approach is that a disease outbreak can change after it is first evaluated. Smaller outbreaks can often be contained effectively by the relatively simple solution of depopulation (euthanizing infected and suspect animals). If the disease begins to spread more rapidly and is not reevaluated, responders could continue using depopulation long after its effectiveness has been overshadowed by the number of animals killed. This not only compromises animal welfare, but also hurts the farmers’ income and the government’s reputation.
In reality, “epidemics behave much more like mysteries,” Heath writes. “More often than not, all of the factors contributing to the spread of the disease are not known in the early stages of an outbreak.”
In order to account for the dynamic nature of disease, the status of the outbreak needs to be constantly reevaluated.
“It’s finding those tipping points where the outbreak is too big for simple controls,” Heath said, speaking to ASAS as a disease expert and not a FEMA representative.
Even when “tipping points” have been identified, however, the effectiveness of the response is often limited by the availability of resources like veterinarians and animal management facilities.
“[The reserve of necessary personnel] is really hard to maintain,” said Heath. “You just need a lot of people very quickly.”
In a disaster situation, there often are not enough trained professionals to manage the handling, diagnosis or euthanasia of all of the affected animals. This can lead to backups and overcrowding in production facilities, which causes discomfort for the animals and can aid the spread of disease. Animals with unknown disease status are especially hard to manage because they represent the largest group of animals affected by an epidemic. These animals are usually treated as if infected and euthanized in order to prevent the disease from spreading further.
Better resource management can help solve some of these welfare issues. In his paper for Animal Frontiers, Heath suggests that federal and state governments establish a way to hire personnel more quickly. He also describes how slaughterhouses could be modified to maintain animal welfare during the depopulation process.
By evaluating an outbreak as it progresses, responders can manage resources and make decisions that balance disease control with animal welfare.
To read the full paper by Heath, go to: AnimalFrontiers.org