Ag leaders prep for potential animal disease outbreak

By Bryan Richardson

There was some role-playing among Manhattan’s agriculture industry pros on Wednesday, but participants weren’t exactly in a party mood.

The make-believe, in fact, was deadly serious.

Inside the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI) on Denison Avenue, more than 200 people handled a simulated outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease , or FMD (also known as hoof-and-mouth disease) — a two-day test crisis created by SES Inc. for the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s emergency preparedness program.

FMD is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cattle, pigs, deer and other cloven-hoofed animals. It doesn’t affect humans, but humans can spread the disease to the animals, one of the numerous ways that FMD is passed.

In this week’s exercise, a cow in Alabama had a confirmed case of FMD. On Wednesday morning, the personnel began working through the process of figuring out whether any animals with FMD had come into Kansas.

By Wednesday afternoon, the K-State veterinary clinic received an animal from Woodson County that was presumed to have FMD.

Next came a wait while officials from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center confirmed test results.

Communications staffers worked the phones and typed up press releases. Industry stakeholders waited for information to dispense to their organizations. State animal health commissioner Bill Brown led everything from a central command position.

Beth Riffel, associate director of communications for the state agriculture department, said this is the first functional exercise that’s been done for a case like this.

Even though it’s just an exercise, she said there’s a lot at stake as everyone works through their emergency plans.

“This would not be a scenario we’d ever want to see in real life,” Riffel said.

Among those participating in the exercise were officials from the state agriculture department, K-State and the state health and environment department.

Riffel said there wasn’t a particular goal attached to the exercise.

“This is just to see what’s missing,” she said. “It’s a success that we got this together.”

BRI’s future next-door neighbor is the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).

Among the highly infectious diseases that would be under scrutiny in the new complex is FMD — the first time it would be studied on the U.S. mainland.

Those who oppose NBAF coming to Manhattan have brought up concerns about the possibility of a FMD release from the facility.

Riffel insisted the exercise isn’t related to the pending completion of the facility, which is currently scheduled for opening in 2020.

“It’s just a matter of us all having plans and needing to see if they’ll work,” she said. “This is important whether NBAF happens or not.”

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