Waters recede, but flood's impact remains

Waters recede, but flood's impact remains

Midwest floods will have long-term effect on animal health and veterinarians
Aug 01, 2008

On the mend: Jason Thornton, a fourth-year veterinary student at Iowa State University, bandages a dog's wound at Kirkwood Community College, with help from Val Dawson, a Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter caretaker.
Although floodwaters receded along the banks of the Mississippi, the aftermath will continue to be felt for months and even years.

Damage estimates still are being tallied, but are expected to exceed the $21 billion pricetag of the 1993 floods, which at that time had been considered the nation's most significant and damaging natural disaster.

To the rescue: A volunteer cares for a kitten left at the Kirkwood Community College emergency shelter, established as a place for people to take their pets during the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
So far, just three veterinarians — two in Iowa and one in Wisconsin — have sought relief through American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) grants, but hundreds more requests are expected to filter in over the next several months.

Seven states felt the ravages of the Mississippi, with Iowa being the hardest hit. More than 40,000 residents were evacuated in that state alone and 83 of the state's 99 counties were declared disaster areas. The same was true of 21 Illinois counties and 29 Indiana counties, and there were widespread evacuations and flooding in Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota and Michigan. At least 13 deaths were attributed to floods.

Parasites and disease

Damage and debris left behind pose some long-term issues for animal health professionals.

Double concerns: A tighter food supply and disease could be post-flood problems for farm animals.
Dr. Marianne Ash, director of Bio-security and Emergency Planning with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, says at the start of the flood local veterinarians focused on sheltering animals and treating injuries, but over time the emphasis will shift to floodwater contaminates and to disease vectors.

"It's the same exposures and challenges that people deal with as they try to return to their homes," Ash says. "We're disseminating information to animal owners about the need to protect themselves and their animals by taking care to decontaminate the area and making sure drinking water is clean and pure."

In addition to digestive ailments, there are a number of other diseases that have Ash concerned.

The floodwaters mean increased pools of standing water, which breed mosquitoes that can carry West Nile Virus or heartworm disease, among others. Biting flies, midges and fleas also will increase in numbers.

"There will be a lot of those vectors around, carrying a lot of disease and just generally annoying animals," Ash says. "We're being attentive to that, and doing everything we can to keep insects under control."

American Heartworm Society President Dr. Sheldon Rubin says 60 percent of dogs rescued after Hurricane Katrina had heartworm disease and many of those were transported to California, which partly explains why that state is seeing an increase in the disease.

"It doesn't die out," Rubin says. "It is just carried from one animal to another. It will probably take five years to see the results of the flooding (on heartworm disease), but it will be a huge problem in the Midwest with the mosquito population booming."

Waterborne disease in livestock also is a concern, says Heather Case, coordinator of emergency preparedness and response for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).