Preparing for emergency animal diseases: improving industry capacity

The Livestock Biosecurity Branch recently hosted three post mortem workshops at the Charles Darwin University campus in Katherine to improve industry capacity to prepare and respond to emergency animal diseases.

The department works with industry to manage biosecurity as  a shared risk. Practical workshops form a part of the department’s objective to  build industry awareness, and create a better understanding of roles and  responsibilities to protect the Northern Territory’s agricultural industries.

Megan Pickering, Regional Veterinary Officer, hosted one  full day workshop specifically for veterinarians, vet nurses and livestock  industry professionals and two half day workshops for primary producers.

The purpose of the sessions was to:

  • increase awareness and reporting of animal  diseases
  • increase the number of livestock disease  investigations
  • improve the quality of submissions (including  tissue samples) sent to veterinary laboratories.

Professional workshop

The full day professional workshop was presented to  livestock industry employees, including private veterinarians and veterinary  nurses. There were 16 people in attendance, 11 of whom were active  participants. The majority of these attendees had previously undertaken  emergency management training, or were regularly involved in animal disease  investigations.

The purpose of this workshop was to:

  • revise post mortem techniques for livestock and  large animals with a focus on removing the central nervous system without  damage
  • engage in a dress rehearsal for decontamination  in the event of a suspected case of African swine fever (ASF)
  • revise post mortem techniques for pigs, with a  specific focus on anatomical landmarks which differ from cattle
  • assess the heat risk posed by wearing PPE in  extreme temperatures.

The workshop included a theory session and biosecurity  overview, as well as a practical post mortem on cattle and specialised session  on pigs.

“The feedback on the pig post mortem session was  outstanding. None of the participants had experience in conducting autopsies on  pigs, so everyone found this exercise extremely valuable,” said Dr Pickering.

ASF has spread rapidly throughout Asia, and has recently  been confirmed in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, posing a significant risk to  Australia’s biosecurity. Improving industry capability to undertake post  mortems on pigs increases Australia’s ability to detect an incursion of ASF  early.

Working in heat with PPE

There is a risk that staff wearing PPE in a hot climate for  extended periods will be unable to regulate their body temperatures which may  result in heat-related illnesses.

As part of the professional workshop, the department  evaluated a range of methods to reduce heat-related illnesses while undertaking  emergency animal disease work.

PPE for animal disease investigations includes waterproof  overalls, footwear and gloves. In the event of diseases that can be transmitted  to humans, practitioners also wear respiratory and eye protection.

In the professional post mortem workshop, the eleven  participants were divided into three groups before undertaking the practical  activity:

  • The control group wore PPE and drank cold water  as needed
  • The second group wore PPE and an ice vest and  drank cold water as needed
  • The third group wore PPE drank an ice and  electrolyte slurry before starting. They were also able to drink cold water as  needed.

Body temperatures were recorded before and after the  activity. The ice vest group recorded a significantly lower average fluid loss  than the other two groups, and was the only group to achieve a net cooling  effect (-0.08 degrees celcius). However, a number of variables and  inconsistencies, including personal variations and small focus groups, rendered  the exercise incomplete.

Despite this, the exercise demonstrated that body  temperature differences can be achieved by using heat mitigation techniques to  undertake emergency animal disease field work in extreme heat. It is suggested  that at-risk staff are given the option to use an ice vest and drink ice  slurries when they are required to wear PPE for long periods without relief.

Producer workshops

It may be necessary for producers to perform a post mortem  on livestock, particularly if they are from a remote area where it is difficult  for a livestock industry professional to attend.

For this reason, it is important that producers are equipped  with the tools and knowledge to take quality samples to send to the laboratory.

The two half day producer workshops had a combined  attendance of 22 people, including attendees from remote Northern Territory and  Western Australia.

The sessions commenced with a theory lesson on:

  • the use of personal protection equipment (PPE)
  • particular circumstances where producers may be  required to conduct an investigation
  • why disease freedom assurance is important.

Afterwards, Dr Megan Pickering led participants through a  complete post mortem examination and tissue sample collection of a cow.  Following each session, a station representative was given a complete disease  sampling kit to take home.

“Most participants agreed that they felt more confident in  collecting and submitting samples if the need arose,” Dr Pickering said.

“There was a particular appreciation for learning how to  remove a brain without damage, how much of each tissue to sample, and the  simple suggestions for dissection and sample selection.”

The Northern Territory enjoys a clean and sustainable  agricultural image and market access owing to its disease freedom assurance.  Producers and industry professionals play a vital role in protecting our  livestock industries from emergency animal diseases. The department  collaborates with industry and shares knowledge to enhance the Northern  Territory’s capacity to respond to emergency animal disease outbreaks.

Post mortem workshop

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