"We could have a billion-dollar event in a matter of days," he says. "Our farms have gotten so large and animal movement so
prevalent, you've almost created a perfect scenario for not being able to contain the disease quickly."
Add to that the shortage of veterinarians, and the disaster would quickly worsen. In California, there are at least 4 million
dairy cattle alone and maybe 800 large- or mixed-animal veterinarians on hand, Breitmeyer estimates.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) plans for managing an outbreak of
FMD center on early detection and eradication by veterinarians, but Breitmeyer questions whether today's resources can support
"You look at the veterinary infrastructure we have today, and it's going to be very difficult to get the manpower we would
need to respond to something like that," he says, adding more work needs to be done to shore up prevention, rather than reaction
"We've really got to get beyond waiting for somebody to see something," he says. "We're very willing to spend millions of
dollars after the fact, but trying to get half those funds (for prevention) is almost impossible."
Veterinarians should always consider FMD when diagnosing any condition that presents with similar lesions, he advises, and
practitioners and producers should be vigilant in reporting any suspected cases.
Strategies are being developed in California on how to quickly obtain and perform vaccinations with a limited workforce, says
Whiteford. Although a severe threat, FMD outbreaks are not frequent and governments can't justify or afford to keep staffing
at optimum levels.
"These rapidly spreading viruses are high-consequence events at low frequency," Whiteford says. "The infrastructure we have
to maintain needs to be expandable."
Disaster plans focus on leadership, best practices and how to expand quickly, she says. But recruiting good people is a problem
that is only now starting to be alleviated through programs like student-loan repayment, she says.
"It's quite a challenge for states to even recruit the few core experts to show others what we need to do," she says.
And those experts will be critical to the other main component of FMD plans—communication.
"As soon as there's a devastating disease ... the uncertainty and the unknown can be very scary to the general public," Whiteford
says. "In a crisis situation, the key is to be honest, transparent and don't speculate."
The three things California disaster planners are focusing on, according to Whiteford, is accurate and clear communication
to the public, practicing methods to quickly stop movement of animals and product infected with the virus, and developing
plans to spring into action as soon as a diagnosis is made.