Infectious diseases represent significant animal welfare and export market concerns and the Kansas Department of Agriculture makes investigating disease reports a top priority. During the 2019 Women in Agriculture meeting in Parsons, Kansas, KDA assistant animal health commissioner Andy Hawkins spoke about significant disease protocols.

Hawkins encouraged producers to report clinical signs for any diseases included on the state’s reportable disease list.

“Anything that is a clinical sign consistent with a reportable disease needs to be reported,” Hawkins said. “Any unexplained clinical signs or behaviors also need to be reported because there are new diseases constantly emerging along with diseases we haven’t seen before in the U.S. that we are always on the lookout for.”

Zoonotic disease like rabies and West Nile Virus are top priorities for the state because of the risks they pose to humans. Reported cases of zoonotic diseases in animals can often lend insight to similar cases in humans and warn physicians about potential flare-ups.

“We had an increase in West Nile cases in horses this year,” Hawkins said. “I think we had nine confirmed cases and all of those cases were in horses that were not vaccinated, so we know the vaccines are working.”

In addition to clinical signs, Hawkins suggested reporting high morbidity or mortality rates, especially in concentrated or confinement operations. While instances of high mortality can often be explained by other factors, Hawkins urged producers to use caution in those situations.

Foreign animal disease investigations make up a large part of the work the Kansas Department of Agriculture does to secure the state’s livestock markets.

“We do foreign animal disease investigations all the time but our goal is to be sure that we get a negative result quickly to assure our trade partners that we don’t have foot-and-mouth disease,” Hawkins said. “We do everything we can to protect the market.”

With a goal to receive negative test results within four hours of sampling an animal, KDA works hard to supply trade partners with information quickly. To perfect their response time, Kansas works with other state and national agencies to practice scenarios.

“Every year we do a functional exercise with KDA,” Hawkins said. “Basically, it is a three to four day exercise where we mimic what would happen if foot-and-mouth disease actually came into the U.S.”

Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Foot-and-mouth disease is a major concern for livestock producers in Kansas. While the disease has a higher morbidity than mortality, the highly contagious nature of the disease makes it a primary concern.

“Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious,” Hawkins said. “Given the right conditions it can aerosolize and travel over 30 miles.”

Foot-and-mouth disease is not a human health concern or a food safety concern. The disease hurts the efficiency of production, as well as consumer perception.

“The biggest issue with foot-and-mouth disease is perception,” Hawkins said. “Consumer perception is ‘I’m not going to eat something that has foot-and-mouth disease.’”

Hawkins said investigating and eliminating any threats of disease in the state is important not just for Kansas producers, but for the high volume of livestock traffic moving through the state.

“We’ve got concentrations of livestock in dairies, swine confinement operations and feedlots, so lots of high population areas,” Hawkins said. “It’s mind boggling how big this operation could be if we had to deal with a large-scale disease like foot-and-mouth.”