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26 February 1999
If foot and mouth disease or any other highly contagious disease, wassuspected to have broken out in the Upper North Island tomorrow, a quarantine area withina 50 kilometres radius from the suspected point of disease origination would be set upwithin hours. Police road blocks would control movement in and out of the area. No animalscould be moved.
The infected property would be quarantined, the livestock humanelyslaughtered and disposed of, any buildings, vehicles and equipment in recent contact withthe farm's livestock would be cleaned and disinfected.
The property would become a "restricted place"
All animals and contaminated items that have gone on or off theinfected farm, within a defined period, would be traced to find the source of infectionand where it may have spread to.
But even prior to any of this happening, the Ministry of Agricultureand Forestry would put on standby the country's exotic animal disease response teamexperts - epidemiologists, disease control specialists, diagnosticians, microbiologists,immunologists and pathologists. An initial investigating veterinarian would have beendispatched to the site, followed by an exotic disease investigator.
Within 24 hours the response team would gather at MAF's National Centrefor Disease Investigation (NCDI) at Wallaceville Campus in Upper Hutt where the country'sExotic Disease Response Centre has been set up. The response team would be ready toinvestigate, diagnose, and contain any suspected exotic animal disease anywhere in NewZealand from the site. Staff will manage the incursion with detailed procedures andsophisticated computer systems.
This is the first time New Zealand's exotic disease response team hashad its own centre from which to co-ordinate the containment and eradication of an exoticdisease. The NCDI has been in operation since November 1 last year.
The likelihood of an exotic disease outbreak in New Zealand is small,but it's still a possibility we are ever-vigilant for because there is no such a thing as‘zero risk'. MAF has had a long history of disease control and eradication which goesback to the control of sheep scab during the 1880s. This was before the first veterinaryinvestigation laboratory in New Zealand was established at the Wallaceville campus in1905. The Ministry eradicated sheep scab in the 1880s. This century MAF has investigatedsuspected cases of scrapie, European foulbrood in bees, foot and mouth disease, anthrax,as well as swine fever, infectious bursal disease, Balclutha horse syndrome and the rabbitcalicivirus.
To maintain a exotic disease response preparedness, the response teammeets annually for a three to four day disease outbreak simulation. This year the teamwill meet at the Wallaceville response centre from which any disease incursion will bedealt with from now on, with a satellite control centre set up at the disease incursionsite.
Staff in the field will follow up on reports of disease, manageinfected properties, slaughter infected animals, clean and disinfect properties, controlsecurity, road blocks and cordons, and continually evaluate the situation.
At their new location the experts will have their diagnostic equipmentat hand, which includes a yet to be completed biosecure diagnostic laboratory. Previousresponses and simulations have seen response staff set up in a make-shift satellitecontrol centre near to the incursion site in neighbouring race courses, offices,classrooms or church hall.
Once a disease is identified, NCDI staff set about investigatingwhether it has spread elsewhere. The aim is for the Ministry to get ahead of the diseaseto prevent a major epidemic. This is achieved by investigating suspect reports fromfarmers, veterinarians, hunters and others; investigation of all susceptible animals onall properties within three kilometres of the infected farms; and investigation of allfarms assessed as having been exposed to the disease by an air-borne spread. Once undercontrol, centre staff can provide post-eradication surveillance for up to five years. Toachieve this, MAF works in conjunction with the police, Federated Farmers, NZ DefenceForces, the media, territorial or local authorities, Crown Research Institutes, thepublic, universities and other stakeholders, Department of Conservation and LandInformation New Zealand.
The NCDI provides New Zealand with a 24 hour, 365 days per year exoticdisease freephone service to receive notification of suspected exotic disease and pests.All suspected exotic disease incidents or diseases of potential national interest shouldbe reported to the centre using the freephone number 0800 809 966. The number is listed inthe emergency section in the front of your phone book.
NCDI General Manager Hugh Davies says the freephone number receivesabout 5000 calls a year (between 300 -400 calls a month). He says the majority of thecalls are not animal disease related.
"We get calls involving whale strandings, insects found in thegarden, questions about what imported goods people can and can't bring into the countryand even the occasional nutter.
"We listen to all these calls and advise the caller of the mostappropriate agency to contact. The animal disease related calls are referred to theon-duty exotic disease response manager for immediate follow up. At least once a week anon-farm investigation results from a freephone call," he says.
As well as housing the Exotic Disease Response Centre, NCDI alsoincorporates the New Zealand Animal Health Reference Laboratory. The reference laboratoryis staffed by experts in the disciplines of immunology, virology, bacteriology, andmolecular biology supported by experts in other disciplines contracted from otherorganisations.
Part of the reference lab will be a yet to be completed containmentlaboratory. It will be used to develop and carry out rapid screening tests to rule in orrule out exotic disease agents in a biosecure facility. When completed in August, thelaboratory will be the most secure containment laboratory in New Zealand. The laboratoryis being constructed by AgResearch, the Crown Research Institute that owns theWallaceville campus. It will be leased back to MAF.
Having the laboratory will reduce New Zealand's current reliance onoffshore labs. "The new lab will be able to make immediate diagnosis of materialwithout the delay of having to send the samples overseas. Often it can be a weeks delay ingetting results back from an overseas diagnostics lab," says Davies.
The major use of the laboratory will be to meet the requirements of NewZealand's Chief Veterinary Officer for the diagnosis of exotic animal disease and thedesign and implementation of surveys to confirm New Zealand's freedom from exotic unwantedorganisms. This is imperative for trade facilitation so that New Zealand can makeassurances to our trading partners that New Zealand's animals are free of certaindiseases.
The reference laboratory will also continue to test for diseases thatmight be found in animals in post-entry quarantine, provide exotic disease testing forexport certification, provide a diagnostic virology testing service for samples referredby private laboratories where the service is not provided commercially, and act as areference laboratory for the definitive identification of micro organisms submitted byprivate diagnostic labs and industry laboratories.
The NCDI will also initially act as a national clearing house andcoordinating centre for the collation, analysis and reporting of all passive surveillanceinformation provided by private animal health and industries laboratories. This data,along with data from active surveillance programmes designed and implemented by NCDIstaff, will form the basis of the reports verifying New Zealand's freedom from exotic,unwanted organisms that the Chief Veterinary Officer provides to trading partners andinternational organisations.
For further information contact:
Gita Parsot, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, ph: 04 498 9806