It was Tuesday, November 23, 1982 and I was an intern at the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center in Caldwell, Idaho. The Teaching Center had a faculty of six besides me, and we met after each two-week rotation of senior students from Washington and Oregon State veterinary medical schools to review the students and get updates on state veterinary issues. Among the issues presented by our director, Dr. Stuart Lincoln, was his appreciation for all the cold weather we had just experienced. unbeknownst to me, there was an outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis in eastern Idaho. Dr. Lincoln was sure we’d be spared in our southwestern corner of the state because mosquitoes, the vectors that transmit the disease, should have died and transmission would stop. That was the conventional wisdom of the day and regulatory veterinarians were reporting that the spread of Vesicular Stomatitis had subsided. Moments later, Delores, one of the Center’s receptionists, quietly slipped into the conference room and handed me a note. The note said one of the dairies we serviced had noticed a few large blisters on the teats of some incoming heifers and they wanted me to come out to take a look. So began the saga of an outbreak of Vesicular Stomatatis, a disease clinically indistinguishable from Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Despite the recent twenty-four “vector killing” frosts in Idaho, the event Dr.
Lincoln had just assured us wouldn’t happen… happened!
This turned out to be quite the experience for a young, enthusiastic veterinarian. All of a sudden, I was on the frontline of a new presentation of a disease outbreak. The disease continued to spread within the herd until December 16, despite the fact that there was many more below-freezing days. I observed oral, feet, and teat lesions on the 332 cows that I examined. Nearly two thirds of the cows had lesions, many of them with lesions at multiple sites. Oral lesions were the most common, which resulted in excessive amounts of saliva contamination in the waterers. We were able to isolate the virus from one of the water samples. Animal-to-animal transmission was the means to the spread the virus in this outbreak.
There was a flurry of educational meetings to update practitioners in Idaho about the latest developments with our epizootic of Vesicular Stomatitis. Because I was the primary attending veterinarian of this herd, and had the most experience with the disease, the University of Idaho flew me, with other supporting faculty, to two different locations to meet with practitioners. It was an exciting and memorable time. But there was one “deer in the headlight” moment for me. During one of the question and answer sessions, a practitioner asked e the difference between a Vesicular Stomatitis foot lesion and foot rot. I instantly realized I was in the dubious position of having experienced more Vesicular Stomatitis feet than foot rot. I didn’t have an answer. Thankfully, I was rescued by one of the faculty veterinarians who answered, “foot rot wouldn’t have the vesicle lesions with it.”
This event early in my career came to mind when I noticed the CE event sponsored by the WVMA and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP): Secure Milk Supply - Planning for the Unimaginable, on June 15 at Glacier Canyon Lodge in Wisconsin Dells.
Secure Milk Supply is a collaborative effort of industry, state, federal and academic representatives funded by USDA-APHIS. This is a new and important program to help mitigate the disruption of food supply and business while still controlling an outbreak of FMD. The voluntary Secure Milk Supply plan is a workable continuity business plan for uninfected farms in a FMD Control Area. One of the components of the plan is an Operation-Specific Enhanced Biosecurity plan, which herd veterinarians will help design, implement and oversee. This is a very important role in which we maintain the responsibility.
I realize it is hard to get excited about low probability events when we are all busy with high probability challenges every day. However, in today’s world with terrorists looking to disrupt our way of life, some sort of deliberate sabotage is a real possibility. The possibility of a FMD outbreak is just as likely as a vector free outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis was 36 years ago.