AVMA 2018: One Health in Action - Collaboration Saves Lives

July 20, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Veterinary professionals are uniquely positioned to protect both animals and people against infectious diseases, as evidenced by 2 initiatives introduced at the 2018 AVMA Convention.

At the 2018 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention, 2 experts discussed the efforts of groups whose mission is to prevent and control infectious and potentially deadly diseases that affect animals and people.

Training Veterinary First Responders to Tackle Foreign Animal Disease

The National Agricultural Biosecurity Center (NABC) within Kansas State University trains “crime fighters” to take down foreign animal diseases through animal disease response training (ADRT).

Comprised of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, firefighters, livestock producers, and other volunteers, these eclectic ADRT teams focus on foreign animal disease response planning, training, and education efforts. Foreign animal diseases are those that have never been or are not currently in the United States.


  • AVMA 2018: Treating Zoonotic Diseases - Can Vets and MDs Unite?
  • One Health Education: Where Are We Today?

“We want veterinary professionals to be involved from the beginning because they are the tip of the spear,” said NABC Program Director Ken Burton, DVM, at the convention.

He explained that ADRT teams are integral to identifying diseases and reporting accurate information to many agencies during suspected or confirmed outbreaks. Here’s how it works:

  • If a foreign animal disease is suspected, the office of the state veterinarian or animal health department is contacted.
  • A foreign animal disease diagnostician is deployed to investigate further.
  • If the suspicions are supported by additional evidence, federal agencies—such as the USDA and APHIS—will then become involved.

“A large number of people are required to work together more efficiently and understand overall factors in foreign animal disease response,” Dr. Burton said. “There is strength in numbers when we are dealing with biosecurity disasters.”

The NABC has trained more than 500 nontraditional first responders throughout Kansas and Nebraska, and Dr. Burton said he has plans to take ADRT across the nation.

“There’s so much going on in transboundary research and disease,” Dr. Burton said. “Our veterinary students are realizing that their expertise can play a critical role in technical response and incident command beyond the typical fields.”

Veterinary professionals and students interested in completing ADRT must complete a 1-day awareness-level course conducted by NABC mobile training teams. Upon course completion, students receive a Department of Homeland Security Certificate of Completion.

Tackling Zika Virus in California

The re-emergence of Zika virus earlier this decade was quickly identified as a global health threat as case numbers rose and multiple routes of transmission were identified. In 2015, Zika vector—competent Aedes mosquitoes appeared in Southern California. This, coupled with the large amount of travel to California from Zika-endemic areas, created concern that the virus could be introduced in the state.

At the 2018 AVMA Convention, Anne Kjemtrup, DVM, MPVM, PhD, an epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health Vector-Borne Disease Section, explained how state and local health departments, universities, local vector control agencies, and family health partners throughout California quickly came together to create an extensive mosquito-borne disease education, surveillance, and response plan.

The plan focused mainly on creating powerful messaging about how to avoid Zika virus transmission—“Don’t Bring Zika Home”—and reaching the desired targeted audiences with that messaging. Communication was enhanced across agencies, new educational materials were created, and Zika virus prevention information was promoted through media outlets and social networks.

According to government officials, California has seen a decline in travel-related Zika infection similar to what the United States as a whole has seen. The new One Health partnership may have aided in this decline.

While outbreaks are under control for now, Zika virus infections will likely be cyclic—high activity years followed by low activity years. A One Health approach, just like the one implemented in California, will continue to be vital in educational and prevention efforts across the globe.