International experts invited to observe simulated outbreak of agricultural anthrax

6 November 2002

When the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) puts its exotic disease response systems to the test next week it will do so under the close observation of expert veterinarians from Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA.

While the emergency scenario will, on paper, involve suspected cases of anthrax in livestock in areas around Levin and near the Manawatu River, the simulated exercise will be based out of Wellington.

New Zealand has not had a case of anthrax in animals since 1954 and remains one of only a handful of countries that are free of the disease. Anthrax is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis and has an almost worldwide distribution.

MAF's Exotic Disease Response co-ordinator Matthew Stone said there is considerable value in having international observers present to assess New Zealand's state of preparedness for handling a disease outbreak.

"We are fortunate to be hosting highly experienced veterinarians who will provide us with the opportunity to thoroughly measure the effectiveness of our three-tiered management system," he said.

"Our training is enhanced by exchanging information and this exercise will also enable us to ensure our anthrax-specific response requirements are being adequately planned for. For instance, Australia, the UK and USA regularly deal with outbreaks of anthrax and so we can gain from their experience".

The international observers are: Akiko Nishiguchi of Japan's National Veterinary Assay Laboratory; Rob Williams of Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Martin Atkinson of the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Ty Vannieuwenhoven of the US Department of Agriculture.

MAF's management system for any and all animal disease emergencies involves mobilising the National Co-ordination Centre, the Exotic Disease Response Centre and a Field Operations Response Team. Similar simulation exercises were held in 2000 (Nipah virus and the pig industry) and 2001 (Newcastle disease and the poultry industry).

For further information contact:

Matthew Stone Exotic Disease Response Co-ordinator MAF Biosecurity Tel: (04) 498-9884 or (025) 332 509 email: stonem@maf.govt.nz
or Stephen Olsen Communications Adviser MAF Biosecurity Tel: (04) 470 2753 or (025) 977 028 email: olsens@maf.govt.nz

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