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.
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.
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.