With spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) to the U.S. now classified as definitely possible, federal agencies are strongly pressing for local response to any outbreak.

That's what Douglas Hoefling, DVM, head of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Galesburg, IL, has been pleading all along.

Until recently, federal officials have said the role of regional agencies like diagnostic labs was to forward any suspects directly to Plum Island, NY, or to the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA. They are the only contained, federal facilities approved to test for foreign animal diseases like FMD.

“We should be allowed to do the initial surveillance on some foreign animal diseases — like hog cholera and African swine fever because they look similar to some domestic hog diseases — rather than just sending the samples off to a federal lab,” says Hoefling.

“Then if something does look positive, like with obvious lesions seen with FMD, we aren't going to do the actual diagnostic testing. We are going to send it off for confirmation,” says Hoefling.

In his western Illinois lab, two of the three veterinarians on staff have foreign animal disease training. Federal field veterinarians and many universities and state diagnostic labs also have trained personnel.

Every year, alarmed producers and private veterinarians across the U.S. contact these trained veterinarians to investigate hundreds of suspicious animals. So far, all have been negative.

Hold Your Tongue

Hoefling recalls a few years ago a veterinarian reported a client's hogs were loosing the tips of their tongues. Hoefling feared it might be swine vesicular disease, which looks similar to FMD. Further checking by a federal field veterinarian found an old cable on a cattle oiler had broken and the pigs were grabbing this dangling piece of cable and cutting off the tips of their tongues.

Two routine investigations in March in North Carolina were cause for some concern. Tissues from a dead hog at a Roberson, NC, packing plant looked like FMD but proved negative. A second suspect hog from a market also proved negative.

Hoefling says foreign animal disease surveillance is one of the top jobs at his diagnostic lab, serving as the “first line of recognition.”

Experts Agree

Purdue University's Otto Doering agrees local testing should be used to quickly respond to any FMD outbreak to contain the highly contagious virus.

The professor of agricultural economics suggests that USDA issue a firm statement that producers with FMD in their herds would receive adequate compensation for any animals destroyed.

Ken Foster, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, adds that it is important to allow local testing for FMD because it would speed the time it takes to make a diagnosis. “Farmers might be more willing to report suspected cases if they dealt with local and more familiar institutions,” he says.