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Vets and biosecurity staff hone skills in emergency animal disease management

Biosecurity Officers and District Veterinarians from Central Tablelands and Greater Sydney Local Land Services were put through their paces at a training exercise held in Orange last week.

The Emergency Animal Disease Workshop had the LLS team confronting a series of theoretical scenarios based on real life logistics and constraints.

The test cases included how to investigate Foot and Mouth Disease like symptoms at a local shearing shed, a suspected outbreak of Avian Influenza in a backyard chook house, the death of cattle on a farm with a history of Anthrax, and the discovery of a dead horse that had been imported from Queensland just a week earlier.

While the scenarios were all make believe, the potential biosecurity risks facing Australian agriculture are very real, making it critical that veterinarians and biosecurity staff constantly hone their skills in emergency animal disease detection and control.

The workshop was organised by Central Tablelands Veterinarians Lucienne Downs and Nigel Gillan, in collaboration with Sarah Britton from NSW DPI (Department of Primary Industries).

"The main aim is to make sure we are well prepared when a real disease outbreak occurs," according to LLS District Veterinarian, Lucienne Downs.

"We want to keep ourselves and others safe and limit the spread of infection from the investigation site."

"These practice drills and discussion sessions are essential for making people feel comfortable in the event of some of the more likely scenarios."

There was particular emphasis at the workshop on ensuring all the participants could properly utilise their Personal Protection Equipment or PPE.  

Fortunately outbreaks of the most dangerous animal diseases don't occur frequently, but staff need to regularly practice donning and then removing the full PPE outfit so they are fully prepared on the occasions when PPE is required, such as the investigation of suspected cases of Anthrax or Hendra Virus. 

PPE attire needs to be applied in the correct order, and then removed following strict procedures to ensure wearers don't contaminate themselves, their work site, or samples taken for testing.

The participants were also correctly fitted for respirator face masks, which can be ineffective if the wearer doesn't have the appropriate type of respirator mask for their face shape.

"Becoming familiar with the PPE is very important.  It's also very useful for us to take part in these training exercises to get to know each other well as a team," said Lucienne.

"These workshops are particularly useful for sharing ideas and building cohesiveness."

"Doing a combined exercise with a neighbouring LLS agency on our border is extremely worthwhile as it's very likely we'll end up working together in the future."

The District Veterinarians and Biosecurity staff who took part in the Emergency Animal Disease workshop have praised the organising team for putting together an event that was very successful at both a practical level and as a team building exercise.

For more information contact Lucienne Downs at Central Tablelands LLS on 1300 795 299.

Media contact: Kylie Krause on 0439 608370